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William K. Everson 







by George N. Fenin 
and William K. Everson 


This lavishly illustrated book is 
the first to tell the full story of the 
Western, the most truly American 
of films. Ever since 1903, when The 
Great Train Robbery was made, the 
Western film has held a special place 
in American life, its source being 
the history and folklore of our 

In the United States and in almost 
every part of the world, the image 
of the lonely cowboy on horseback 
on the wide prairie has become part 
of a modern mythology; it is an 
American mythology, based on those 
themes closest to America's soul: the 
never-ending battle between good 
and evil, the loneliness of the indi- 
vidual going his own way, the sense 
of the land— a wide, free land— and 
the triumph of personal courage 
over any obstacles, whether they be 
those of nature or of man. 

Films like The Great Train Rob- 
bery, Hell's Hinges, The Covered 
Wagon, The Iron Horse, Stagecoach, 
Broken Arrow, Shane and High 
Noon are part of our past and pres- 
ent, part of our continuing culture. 
And the stars of these films, Bronco 
Billy Anderson, William S. Hart, 
Tom Mix, Buck Jones, Hoot Gib- 

continued on back flap 



37417 NilesBlvd ofiB*! 510-494-1411 

Fremont, CA 94536 

Scanned from the collections of 
Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum 

Coordinated by the 
Media History Digital Library 

Funded by a donation from 
Jeff Joseph 

The Orion Press 
New York 

George N. Fenin and 
William K. Everson 

The Western 

from silents to cinerama 

First printing 

All rights reserved 

© 1962 by George N. Fenin and William K. Everson 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 62-15016 

Designed by Wladislaw Fmne 

Manufactured in the United States of America 



the finest Western star and director of them 
all, and the best friend the West ever 
had, this book is reverently and sincerely 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

Media History Digital Library 

For many years the Western film has been 
strangely and unfairly neglected. Although 
many articles and essays have appeared in 
general and specialized periodicals all over 
the world, substantially organic books deal- 
ing exclusively with the Western are very 
rare indeed. And of all this material, the 
rl nrpwnrn majority has been disguised publicity, or at 

best essays which refused to take the Western 
seriously, the work of writers who knew little 
or nothing of Westerns, writers who glibly 
referred to the cliche of the hero always 
kissing his horse instead of the girl, leaving 
it at that. 

There have been innumerable histories of 
the cinema, more specialized histories deal- 
ing with the cinema in various countries, 
and books devoted to individual directors, 
producers, executives, and stars. But if the 
general history of the movies has been told, 
only three books of any stature have been 
devoted specifically to the Western, all of 
foreign origin: // Film Western, by Italian 
critic Antonio Chiattone; // Western Mag- 
giorenne, a symposium of essays by various 
Italian critics, edited by Tullio Kezich; and 
Le Western, by French critic Jean-Louis 
Rieupeyrout. Of these, the first is a serious 
but necessarily incomplete and at times 
rather arbitrary study of the aesthetics of 
the Western; the second is most useful as a 
ground-breaking instrument for a system- 
atic treatise, although it is necessarily frag- 
mentary as a symposium; and the third is a 
less than thorough attempt to both narrate 


the historical background of the West and to describe the growth of the 
Western film, the coverage of this second aspect being characterized by 
numerous errors of a nature almost unavoidable when one is working 
so far from the bulk of the source material. 

We felt, therefore, that there was not only room, but a need, for a 
detailed history of the Western, a book which would represent not only 
a useful study of the industrial and aesthetic growth of a popular movie 
genre, but a critical analysis of it, as well. For the most part, we have 
adopted a strictly chronological approach, but, in the parlance of the 
film, it has sometimes been necessary to use "flash-forwards and cut- 
backs" and even a form of montage, in order to follow a thesis through to 
its logical conclusion. > 

We hope that our efforts may clarify past misunderstandings and mis- 
conceptions regarding the Western film, contributing at the same time 
to a fuller appreciation of the real essence of what is considered by many 
to be the most representative form of the American cinema. 

New York, 1962 

George N. Femn 
William K. Ever son 

Acknowledgments The authors wish to thank Mr. Jonas Mekas of 

Film Culture (New York) for his permission to 
reprint material by Mr. Fenin published in that 
magazine, Mr. F. Maurice Speed of The Western 
Film Annual (London) and Mr. Henry Hart of 
Films in Review (New York) for their permission 
to reprint material by Mr. Everson which appeared 
in those publications between 1951 and 1957, and 
also Mr. John Adams of the Museum of Modern 
Art (New York) and Mr. James Card of the 
George Eastman House (Rochester) for their co- 
operation in screening prints of certain rare 
Westerns in order that re-evaluations might be 
made. Further grateful acknowledgment is made 
to Major George J. Mitchell, United States Army, 
for his valuable assistance, particularly in the re- 
search on the life and career of William S. Hart. 



Birth of a state of mind 
Hollywood and the Western novel 


The hero 


Hero versus badman 


The villain 


The Indian 


The woman 


Adventure and the law 


Plot versus action? 


Necessity for a living legend 



The Great Train Robbery 47 

The first Western star 52 

Hollywood makes more Westerns 56 

david w. griffith and 
thomas h. ince: 1909-1913 

D. W. Griffith 61 

Thomas H. Ince 67 


My Life East and West 75 


Hell's Hinges 82 

Hart's peak and decline 92 

Hart off-screen 104 

6. tom mix and showmanship 108 

7. douglas fairbanks and 

john ford: 1913-1920 122 

8. james cruze's The Covered 
Wagon and john ford's 

The Iron Horse 130 


The assembly line begins 


Harry Carey and Buck Jones 


Fred Thomson 


Ken Maynard 


Other new stars 


Directors William Wyler and 

William K. Howard 


Other aspects of the Twenties 


The %ane Grey tradition 


Boom years 


The sound era 




Producer-stars 195 

The "B" Western 198 

Forgotten Westerns 200 

Partial renaissance of the epic 203 

Hopalong C as sidy 206 

The heroine 209 

Gene Autry and Roy Rogers 210 

Autry's imitators 216 

Other stars 219 





Renaissance of the epic 


Cult of the outlaw 


Historical Westerns 


John Ford's further contributions 


A social Western: The Ox-Bow 



Parodies and satires 


The "B" Western 







Racial conscience 




B. Reaves Eason and Arthur Rosson 

Cliff Lyons 


Other second unit directors 


Yakima Canutt 


David Sharpe 


Fred Graham 


Bud Osborne 


Stunt movies 


16. EXEUNT THE "b"s, 

The stars wane 301 

The rise in production costs 302 

Borderline Westerns 306 
Television's grind: re-enter Gene Autry 308 

Television's needs 309 

Hopalong Cassidy 312 

Other stars 312 



Soft politics 337 

Teen-age and adult markets 337 

The modern West 339 

Conclusion 341 

INDEX 343 

The illustrations for this volume have been chosen 
for both documentary and decorative purposes. A 
list of captioned, documentary illustrations follows. 


A scene from Hiawatha (1952) 


Douglas Kennedy in Sitting Bull 



A scene from Roy Rogers' Bells of 

Coronado (1950) 


Montgomery Clift and Clark 

Gable in The Misfits (1961) 


James Stewart and Debra Paget 

in Broken Arrow (1950) 


Gary Cooper in High Noon (1952) 


Brandon De Wilde and Alan 

Ladd in Shane (1953) 


A scene from The Last Hunt (1956) 


Richard Cramer 


Louise Glaum, Robert McKim, 

and William S. Hart in The 

Return of Draw Egan (1916) 


Bill Elliott in Waco (1952) 


Mark Stevens and Barton Mac- 

Lane in Jack Slade (1953) 


A scene from The Stranger from 

Texas (1939) 


Jack Palance and Elisha Cook, Jr. 

in Shane (1953) 


Douglas Fowley in Santa Fe Trail 



Harry Woods, Roy Barcroft, and 

Robert Frazer in Dawn on the 

Great Divide (1942) 


Edmund Cobb, Roy Barcroft, 

and Bud Osborne 


The building of a town in Cimarron (1931) 35 

Town scene from The Iron Horse (1924) 35 
Jeff Chandler, James Stewart, and Debra Paget in Broken 

Arrow (1950) 39 

Ruth Roland, Queen of the Western serials 40 

William Desmond and Luella Maxim in Deuce Duncan (1918) 41 

A scene from W. K. L. Dickson's Cripple Creek Barroom (1898) 48 

A scene from The Great Train Robbery (1903) 48 

Edwin S. Porter 51 

Broncho Billy Anderson 52 

A scene from Broncho Billy's Oath (1913) 54 

A scene from Broncho Billy and the Redskin (1913) 56 

D. W. Griffith and G. W. Bitzer 60 
Richard Barthelmess and Carol Dempster in Scarlet Days 

(1919) 64 

A scene from America (1924) 66 

Thomas Ince and William Eagleshirt 70 

William S. Hart in The Primal Lure (1916) 77 

William S. Hart in The Tiger Man (1918) 80-81 

Hell's Hinges (1916) 84-85 

William S. Hart in Wild Bill Hickok (1923) 94 
William S. Hart, Anna Q. Nilsson, and Richard Headrick in 

The Toll Gate (1920) 97 

William S. Hart in The Testing Block (1919) 100 

William S. Hart in The Devil's Double (1916) 101 

William S. Hart, King Vidor, and Johnny Mack Brown 103 

Robert Taylor and William S. Hart at the Newhall Ranch 105 

A bronze statue of William S. Hart 106 
Tom Mix in Hello, Cheyenne (1928) 110-111 
A production shot from Just Tony (1922) 1 14-1 15 

Tom Mix in Riders of Death Valley (1932) 1 19 

Tom Mix and Mickey Rooney in My Pal the King (1932) 120 

Douglas Fairbanks in Manhattan Madness (1916) 124 

Douglas Fairbanks in The Knickerbocker Buckeroo (1919) 125 

Roy Stewart in Keith of the Border (1918) 1 26 

William Farnum in the first version of The Spoilers (1914) 126 

William Desmond in Deuce Duncan (1918) 127 
Cecil B. De Mille directing Mary Pickford and Elliott Dexter 

in A Romance of the Redwoods (1917) 128 

A scene from The Covered Wagon (1923) 133 

A scene from The Covered Wagon 134 

A production shot from The Covered Wagon 137 

Tim McCoy and James Cruze 138 

John Ford directing a scene from The Iron Horse (1924) 140 

The track-laying race from The Iron Horse 141 
Ken Maynard and Charles King in Between Fighting Men 146-147 

Harry Carey 149 

Buck Jones and Silver 152 
Fred Thomson, Helen Foster, and baby Mary Louise Miller 

in The Bandit's Baby (1925) 152 

Fred Thomson and Ann May in Thundering Hoofs (1924) 153 

A scene from The Wagon Show (1928) 153 

Hoot Gibson 156 

Rin Tin Tin in Tracked by the Police (1927) 161 
The Bank Hold-up 162-163 
William K. Howard directs Noah Beery in The Thundering Herd 

(1925) 165 

Fatty Arbuckle and Wallace Beery in The Round Up (1920) 168 

William Farnum in Last of the Duanes (1918) 168 

Buster Keaton in Go West (1925) 169 

Betty Bronson and Lane Chandler in Open Range (1927) 172 

Announcement of The Virginian 111 

Costuming in The Girl on the Triple X (191 1) 182 

Tom Mix and the "circus approach" 184 

Gene Autry and Champion 185 

Charles Starrett 187 

Bill Elliott 187 

William S. Hart and Roy Rogers: a contrast in costuming 188 

Johnny Mack Brown 189 

George O'Brien in The Iron Horse 189 

Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, and Raymond Hatton 196 
Tom Santschi, Boris Karloff, and Lafe McKee in The Utah Kid 

(1930) 199 
Andy Devine and Walter Huston in Law and Order (1932) 200 
Yakima Canutt in Man of Conquest (1939) 201 
Warner Baxter, Bruce Cabot, and Margo in Robin Hood of El- 
dorado (1936) 201 
Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald in The Girl of the Golden 

West (1938) 202 

A scene from Sutter's Gold (1936) 205 

William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy in Range War (1939) 207 
William Boyd and Clark Gable in The Painted Desert (1930) 208-209 



A poster of the late Thirties 211 

Roy Rogers and Trigger 211 
A scene from Colorado Sunset ( 1 939) 212-213 
Jim Thorpe, Tex Ritter, and Slim Andrews in Arizona Frontier 

(1938) 215 
Jack Randell and Ed Coxen in Riders of the Dawn (1938) 218 
Bob Baker, Glen Strange, and Lois January in Courage of the 

West (1937) 218 

John Wayne and Alberta Vaughan in Randy Rides A lone ( 1 934) 219 

George O'Brien 220 

A poster of the early Thirties 223 
Carol Wayne and Monte Blue in The Great Adventures of Wild 

Bill Hickok (1938) 228 
The Lone Ranger 231 
Wallace Beery 236 
James Ellison, Helen Burgess, and Gary Cooper in The Plains- 
man (1936) 238 
Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea in Union Pacific (1939) 238 
A scene from Union Pacific 239 
John Ford directing Stagecoach (1939) 239 
A scene from Stagecoach 240 
Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney in The Oklahoma Kid 

(1939) 241 
George O'Brien and John Carradine in Daniel Boone (1936) 241 
Errol Flynn in They Died With Their Boots Oh (1941) 245 
Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan in The Westerner (1940) 246 
Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea in The Great Man's Lady 

(1942) 248 
Henry Fonda and Cathy Downs in My Darling Clementine 

(1946) 248 

A scene from Wagonmaster (1950) 249 
James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again 

(1939) 253 
Anthony Quinn, Dana Andrews, and Francis Ford in The Ox- 
Bow Incident (1943) 253 
Abbott and Costello in Ride 'Em Cowboy (1942) 254 
Lash LaRue and Al St. John in Fighting Vigilantes (1947) 258 
Emmett Lynn, Charles King, and Al St. John in Colorado 

Serenade (19 A-§) 259 

A scene from Texas to Bataan (1942) 261 

Jennifer Jones 264 

Jane Russell, Jack Beutel, and Walter Huston in The Outlaw 266 

An early Thomas Ince poster and a poster for The Outlaw 267 

Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones in Duel in the Sun (1945) 269 
The Stagecoach Hold-up 272-273 

Barbara Kent 275 
Harry Shannon, Gregory Peck, and Skip Homeier in The Gun- 

fighter (1950) 278 
Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster in Gunfight at the 0. K. 

Corral (1956) 279 

A scene from Broken A rrow (1950) 280 

A stunt scene from Pioneer Scout (1928) 287 • 

A stunt scene from Loaded Pistols (1949) 288 

Yakima Canutt 292 illustrations 

A fall from a horse 292 

David Sharpe 293 

"Bulldogging" 296 
Fred Graham and Johnny Mack Brown in Lone Star Trail 

(1943) 297 

A stunt scene from When the Daltons Rode (1940) 298 

Rory Calhoun 300 

Two contrasting location shots 303 

A John Carpenter film, Son of the Renegade (1953) 305 

Dennis Weaver 310 

James Arness 3 1 1 

A French Western, Pendaison a Jefferson City 323 

Bela Lugosi in a German Western 325 

Hans Albers in Wasser Fur Canitoga 326 

A scene from Cangaceiro 328 

John Wayne and Montgomery Clift in Red River (1947) 332 

John Wayne 332 

A scene from The Horse Soldiers (1959) 334 
Audie Murphy and Albert Dekker in a scene from The Kid 

From Texas {\9A9) 334 

Karl Maiden and Marlon Brando in One Eyed Jacks (1959) 338 

How The West Was Won, the first Cinerama Western 339 

The enduring beauty of the West 340 

"I don't know how much the Western film 
means to Europe; but to this country it 
means the very essence of national life. I 
am referring now to the later frontier — the 
frontier of the range and the mining camp, 
with all its youthful follies and heartbreaks 
and braveries that we know and love best. It 
is but a generation or so since virtually all 
this country was frontier. Consequently its 
spirit is bound up in American citizenship." 

William S. Hart 1916 

the Western 

"I've labored long and hard for bread 
For honor and for riches 
But on my corns too long you've tred 
You fine-haired sons of bitches ..." 


(alias for Charles E. Bolton, poet 

and outlaw, who may have died 
in Nevada with his boots on.) 

Western history and 

he Hollywood 


Birth of a state of mind 

During the American Revolution, the no 
man's land that lay between the American 
regular forces in the North and the New 
York encampment of the British in the South 
was known as neutral ground. It was devas- 
tated country in which two opposing partisan 
groups sought for and battled each other in 
bloody skirmishes. The guerrillas fighting for 
Washington's cause were called "skinners." 
Those operating with the support of King 
George Ill's British dragoons and Hessian 
mercenaries were known as "cowboys," this 
name deriving from the English farm lads 
who cared for the cattle in the Surrey and 
Essex countrysides. 

It was, in fact, not until several decades 
after the establishment of the Colonies' in- 
dependence that the cowboy became an 
American. In a few years, he achieved the 
required status of maturity, graduated with 
honor into folklore and legend, and stood 
from then on as a living symbol of the Wild 
West, of the truly original American frontier 
period. The transformation in the meaning 
of the word cowboy within a geographical 
cycle was complete. From the bucolic atmos- 
phere of the British farms to the horrors of 
partisan warfare in the American East to the 
conquest of untamed land in the West, the 
term cowboy finally came to synthetize the 
Grandeur et Servitude of one of the most amaz- 
ing events in history. For the swiftness and 
proportion of the "Westward Ho!" march of 
colonization can only be matched by the 
Russian conquest of Siberia, begun by the 



great Yermak in 1579 and highlighted in 1638 by the founding of 
Okhotsk, thus bringing the Slavs to the shores of the Pacific, after they 
had crossed an entire continent. 

The American trek west to the Pacific was the fundamental back- 
ground for the rise of the cowboy, a background which began to materi- 
alize in the fifty years following 1770. When the great Anglo-Saxon 
immigration of substantially Scotch and Welsh descent stopped, there 
came German political refugees, discontented Englishmen, starving Irish 
and Italians, adventurous Russians and Poles, all of whom looked to the 
new land with hope. They were the advance patrols, the battalions and, 
later on, the brigades of an international army of thirty-five million im- 
migrants that was to land on the American shore in the nineteenth cen- 
tury, filling the eastern cities deserted by those who had migrated to virgin 
lands, or simply following others in the wake of the march to the West. 

Thus, in an incredibly short, time, the colonists and farmers of the 
Oregon and Overland Trails learned the cattle trade from the Mexican 
vaqueros in California, and the Santa Fe routiers tasted the acrid and 
exciting sense of competition with the Russians and the British in their 
development of the Fur Trade Empire. With the subsequent discovery 
of gold, farmers and merchants became adventurers; with the advance 
of railroads, they became buffalo hunters; with the establishment of 
property (land and cattle) they wore guns and fought on opposite sides 
of the barbed-wire fence — the era's symbol of revolutionary changes. 

The shrinkage of the wide-open spaces brought about the rapid and 
progressive destruction of what, with wistful euphemism, the United 
States government had labeled the "Permanent Indian Frontier," and in 
a few years the American Indian and the American bison were forced 
to relinquish their prairies. Shortly after the turn of the nineteenth cen- 
tury, this explosive expansion came to a halt. Public opinion had not 
forgotten, indeed, the 1871 speech of Carl Schurz, outlining the dangers 
of prolonged territorial expansion, warning that the United States could 
extend its institutions on rigid isothermic lines only, and that, should 
the penetration reach the tropics, those same institutions would wither 
and disintegrate, causing also the ultimate ruin of the Union. 

This expansion had already created a substantial amount of hostility 
south of the Rio Grande. Lucas Alaman, the Mexican patriarch of 
Latin America's great concern over foreign imperialism, has passionately 
analyzed the great era of North American territorial expansion. 

"The United States of the North in less than fifty years have succeeded in making 
themselves masters of extensive colonies belonging to various European powers, 

The glory of virgin forests. A scene from 
Hiawatha {1952). 

and of districts, still more extensive, formerly in the possession of Indian tribes 
which have disappeared from the face of the earth; proceeding in these transactions 
not with the noisy pomp of conquest, but with such silence, such constancy, and 
such uniformity, that they have always succeeded in accomplishing their goals. In- 
stead of armies, battles, and invasions, which raise such an uproar, and generally 
prove abortive, they use means which, considered separately, seem slow, ineffec- 
tual, and sometimes palpably absurd, but which unite, and in the course of time, 
are certain and irresistible. 

They commence by introducing themselves into the territory which they covet, 
upon the pretense of commercial negotiations, or of the establishment of foreign 
colonies with or without the assent of the government to which the territory be- 
longs. These colonies grow, multiply, become the predominant party in the popu- 
lation and, as soon as a support is found in this manner, they begin to set up rights 
which are impossible to sustain in a serious discussion, and to bring forward 
ridiculous pretensions founded upon historical facts which are admitted by no one. 

Their machinations in the country they wish to acquire are then brought to light 
by the appearance of pioneers, some of whom settle on the soil, alleging that their 
presence does not effect the question of the right of sovereignty or possession of the 
land. These men excite, by degrees, movements which disturb the political state of 
the country in dispute. When things have come to this pass, diplomatic manage- 
ment commences; the inquietude excited in the territory in dispute, the interests 
of the colonists therein established, the insurrection of adventurers and savages in- 
stigated by them, and the pertinacity with which the opinion is set up as to the 
colonists' right of possession, become the subjects of notes, full of expressions of 
justice and moderation, until, with the aid of other incidents — never wanting in the 
course of diplomatic relations — the desired end is attained by concluding an 
arrangement as onerous for one party as it is advantageous to the other." 

nil- w i srr.RN 

But if the Louisiana Purchase, the Seminole War, the $7,200,000 
paid to the Czar of All Russias for Alaska were but some of the examples 
characterizing the conscious development of a political phenomenon, 
the conquest of the Great Plains and of California, for instance, repre- 
sented rather the product of a powerfully articulated, but genuinely 
unconscious — on a political plan — migration. The dynamic imperialism 
manifested by the pioneers was based on racial arrogance towards the 
Mexican and Indian natives, and economic realism, but also on a deep 
idealism. For the pioneers the conquest of the frontier represented the 
colonization of enormous tracts of land for the establishment of all those 
free laws, regulations, and moral principles which guide self-qualified 
men of destiny. This gigantic task kept the pioneers occupied for several 
decades, thus allowing the dynamic urge for further American penetra- 
tion to crystallize. 

The Rio Grande frontier represented the ne plus ultra limit of this pene- 
tration, and the principle of existence and development of a civilization 
on isothermic lines was effectively carried on. Thus the frontier came to 
an end and tradition began. 

The impact of this tradition on successive decades of American life 
and progress has amply proved the frontier's existence in the hearts and 
minds of Americans as something much more appealing than a splendid 
historical period. The frontier is, in fact, the only mythological tissue 
available to this young nation. Gods and demigods, passions and ideals, 
the fatality of events, the sadness and glory of death, the struggle of good 
and evil — all these themes of the Western myth constitute an ideal 
ground for a liaison and re-elaboration of the Olympian world, a re- 
freshing symbiotic relationship of Hellenic thought and Yankee dynamism. 

The cowboy on horseback shapes into the fabulous Centaurus, guardian 
of a newly acquired legend; the woman — whose presence is biologically 
sought in the frontier town — becomes a sort of Minerva, dispensing 
wisdom, often moral principles, warm comfort, and unrelenting excite- 
ment and incitement; Marshal Wyatt Earp's exploits come strikingly 
close to the labors of Hercules, while William Frederick Cody's (Buffalo 
Bill) and Wild Bill Hickok's struggles with Indians and "badmen" are 
often recognized as the modern versions of the classic heroes. The mas- 
sacre of the Seventh Cavalry at Little Big Horn carries the seed of fatality 
bearing down upon Oedipus, and the "Remember the Alamo!" reminds 
us of Thermopylae. 

Above this epic looms the pathos of the fight between good and evil 
so dear to Anglo-Saxon hearts, a theme that finds its highest literary ex- 
pression in Herman Melville's Moby Dick. An epoch such as this, repre- 

senting the joint effort of a great heterogeneous people, sparked with the 
manifestations of a striking individualism, appealed to both the individu- 
alist and the collectivist. The conquest of nature and the law of the gun 
must have appealed to the first; the collectivist had his work cut out for 
him in the tremendous amount of organized effort needed to plow the 
earth, raise cattle, mine, create towns, counties, and cities. A state of 
mind evolved and it was accepted with enthusiasm in the eastern states. 
The literature it spawned must indicate this: from the Western Journal by 
Irving, followed by Astoria, The Adventures of Captain Bonneville, U. S. A. 
and Tour of Prairies to Roughing It by Twain, The Luck of Roaring Camp and 

The Outcasts of Poker Flat by Harte, The Virginian by Wister, and Heart of y 

the West by O. Henry, The Westerners by White, The Big Sky by Guthrie, 

Wyatt Earp by Lake, The Oregon Trail by Parkman, Crazy Horse by Sandoz, history and Hollywood 

The Ox-Bow Incident by Clark, and many others. 

In the course of years, such literature increased continuously, and the 
names of authors like Ernest Haycox, Luke Short, Max Brand, Will 
Ermine, Charles W. Webber, Emerson Hough, E. C. Mann and Zane 
Grey characterize a specific Western narrative in the form of novels, short 
stories, and essays which did not exert a substantial influence on the entire 
American culture, but which, nevertheless, gave body and form to 
a legend. We should also mention Clarence E. Mulford and William 
Colt MacDonald, above-average writers of standard Western novels, and 
writers much drawn upon by the movies. Mulford was first used by Tom 
Mix in the twenties, became more familiar later when his novels were 
filmed in the Hopalong Cassidy series. W. C. MacDonald's 3 Mesquiteer 
Western novels inspired a few one-shot Western films, such as Powder- 
smoke Range (1935) and Law of the 45's (1935-6) and later a whole series 
at Republic Studios from 1937 to 1945. The term mesquiteer was obvi- 
ously derived from the French mousquetaire; and mesquite is a form of 
prairie shrubbery. 

The American legend was subsequently transformed, from the crafts- 
manlike effort of the previous writers, into the smoothly organized, 
slickly presented assembly line product flooding America even today 
with books by the hundred, magazine stories and novelettes by the 
thousand. They have become an almost unbearable weight on the intel- 
lectual faced in most cases with tons of pulp publications of no value 
whatsoever. They cannot in any way aid in exactly evaluating the 
American western epic but the sociologist finds, in the specialized 
western essays and short stories, an effective ground for the study of their 
influence on the American public and its mores. 


Hollywood and the Western novel 

American western literature would have remained confined to the 
limited domains of folklore and a narrow literary genre or, at best, to the 
specialized field of history if the birth of motion pictures had not exerted 
the stupendous verdict of their own possibilities. 

This new art, based among other things on movement, found in the 
Western theme its ideal expression, and made of it the American cinema 
par excellence. In the words of Andre Bazin, the noted French film critic: 

"The history of cinema has known but one other cinema, and this is also historical 
cinema. ... As with the conquest of the West, so the Soviet Revolution is a com- 
pound of historical events marking the birth of an order and of a civilization. One 
and the other have given birth to the myths necessary to a confirmation of history; 
both were also obliged to rediscover the morale, rediscover at their living source, 
before their mixing or their pollution, the principles of the law which will put order 
in the chaos, will separate the sky from the earth. But it is possible that the cinema 
was the only language capable not only of expressing this, but above all of giving 
it the true aesthetic dimension. Without the cinema, the conquest of the West 
would have made of the 'Western stories' but one minor literature; and it is not 
with its painting nor with its best novels that Soviet art has given the world the 
image of its greatness. That is why the cinema is already the specific art of epic." 

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the United States was still 
a land of opportunity where private enterprise bordered often on un- 
scrupulous and illegal practices, and adventure appealed to hardy in- 
dividuals. The California Gold Rush and the Great Cattle Depression 
of 1886-87, among many events, made outlaws and gunfighters of many 
cowboys; though they were already part of a colorful past, banditry 
had not disappeared. 

On August 29, 1900, a few minutes after 8 p.m., train no. 3 of the Union 
Pacific Railroad Company, after having passed the station at Tipton, 
Wyoming, began to slow down as it approached Table Rock. Four men 
emerged from the darkness, forced the conductor, E. J. Kerrigan, to un- 
couple the passenger cars while the express and mail cars were pulled a 
mile distant and subsequently robbed. The thieves were some of the 
Wild Bunch boys: Butch Cassidy, Deaf Charlie Hanks, Bill Carver, 
Harvey Logan. The raid netted a little more than five thousand dollars 
in cash and a few hundred dollars' worth of watch movements, and 
reconfirmed their fame as "the largest, toughest and most colorful of all 
Western outlaw gangs . . . the first such aggregation to have an orderly 
organization," as stated by James D. Horan and Paul Sann in their 

Pictorial History of the Wild West. In a special article that appeared three 
years later, when the Pinkerton detectives had already killed or arrested 
the majority of the gang's members, the Denver Daily News revealed that 
the Wild Bunch outlaws had caused Governor Wells of Utah to contact 
the governors of Colorado and Wyoming in order to create a concerted 
plan of action to combat the menace. 

Such exploits vividly aroused popular fantasy, and the traditional 
sympathy of the American masses for the underdog, fanned by sensa- 
tional newspaper reports, provided ideal ground for the emergence of the 
myth of the outlaw. They provided ground, too, for the physical expres- 
sion of those stark puritanical values implicit in the struggle between 
good and evil, which have so affected the American unconscious as re- 
vealed in the country's folkways and mores. Even if the Koster and 
Bial Music Hall's first showing of "moving pictures" on April 23, 1896, 
brought to the American public visions of sea waves breaking upon the 
shores, as well as some comic vaudeville items, and even if factual 
events continued to attract attention, the growing demand for theatrical 
films became hard to dent. This phenomenon, stimulated as well by the 
urge to contemplate something more realistic and dramatic, materialized 
ultimately and, after many attempts at cinematic storytelling, in 1903 
Edwin S. Porter made his The Great Train Robbery. Lewis Jacobs in his 
The Rise of the American Film said the film "has since represented the Bible 
of the film-makers." Actually this somewhat exaggerates its personal 
value, but until 1909 it did have a very great deal of influence. 

From then on, the Western was a genre of the American cinema. It 
also was the vehicle through which motion pictures and the public con- 
sorted in a remarkable symbiotic relationship. The fact that the motion 
picture, this "flower and crown of the twentieth century," could express 
in indisputably effective terms the magnitude of the recent American 
saga, an essential force still permeating the lives and the philosophy of 
life of great masses of the people, was accepted with enthusiasm by a 
public anxious to learn quickly of its pioneer heritage, in order to acquire 
fundamental principles for its destiny. 

Thus, from that year which represented the birth of film Westerns, 
that year which saw the headlines of the nation's dailies echo the most 
recent exploit of the Wild Bunch, the film-makers began a long and ex- 
citing march, the milestones of which were represented — after an ado- 
lescene — by an epic school, the sound era, color, wide screen . . . right 
up to the present film, a Western very different from the one imagined 
by Edwin S. Porter. The Western of today seems to be choosing some 
rather offbeat paths, and the psychological, sophisticated, "adult" tale 

HISTORY AM) H< >I I ■> VV< » >l> 



of the West is proof of this evolution. In these more than fifty years we 
have seen one of the most amazing cases of a deliberate manipulation 
of a nation's history in the hands of a powerful group of film-makers. 

The drab and grim frontier, with its people struggling for existence 
as ranchers, farmers and merchants was depicted to movie audiences in 
an often entirely different fashion. All of the West's mushrooming com- 
munities — many of them peaceful and monotonous, heroic only in their 
dedication to the building of a new empire — became compressed into a 
stock formula town, the prototypes of Tombstone and Dodge City, with 
rustlers, desperadoes, and outlaws roaming the streets, or engaged in 
bloody saloon fights. 

The great cattle empire, the gold and silver rushes, and the covered 
wagon treks were some of the phases of the West's history which the 
movies implied were a "permanent" part of the Western scene; actually, 
these phases were all of fairly short duration. Life in the old West was 
certainly a lawless one in many communities, but the generalized con- 
cept of the shooting down of endless villains and ranchers without so 
much as a second glance at the corpses is very much at odds with fact. 
A killing was as serious a matter in the West as it was in the East, 
although admittedly the justice meted out was a less standardized one. 
The laws of mob and vigilante groups were not inclined to temper 
justice with mercy and understanding, and in territories where the 
forces of crime and corruption outweighed those of law and order, an 
open and acknowledged felony might go unpunished. But regardless of 
the varying degrees of justice, even taking into account a "kill-or- 
be-killed" attitude among men who made their living outside the law, 
the taking of a human life was still not regarded lightly. The Westerns 
of William S. Hart recognized this principle; there was no casual exter- 
mination of badmen in the Hart-Ince pictures and among recent West- 
erns, Lesley Selander's Stampede (1949) was one of very few films which 
treated killing seriously. 

In the glamorization of the outlaw, Hollywood has contradicted it- 
self on many occasions, in addition to contradicting history. In Badmen's 
Territory (1946) the outlaw Sam Bass is played as a villain, in com- 
pletely evil fashion by fat, swarthy Nestor Paiva. When Universal-Inter- 
national later made Calamity Jane and Sam Bass (1949) — inventing a 
quite fictional romance between the two — Bass was portrayed as the 
misunderstood hero played by clean-cut Howard Duff. 

Reconstruction of historical events was and still is changed to suit the 
script; sympathetic or unsympathetic portrayals of events are often de- 
pendent on the importance of an historical character in a specific script. 

In They Died With Their Boots On (1941), Errol Flynn plays General 
Custer, depicted as a brilliant soldier, sympathetic to the Indians, whose 
command was ruthlessly massacred in a battle brought on by political 
chicanery. In Sitting Bull (1954) the story was told primarily from the 
Indian viewpoint: Sitting Bull was literally forced into battle by the 
stupidity and double-dealing of Custer, played in bullheaded fashion by 
Douglas Kennedy. Custer was an Indian-hater opposed to the efforts of 
hero Dale Robertson to effect a peace treaty. Another Indian-oriented 
work, Chief Crazy Horse (1955), gave that sachem, instead, the credit for 
the Little Big Horn battle, putting Sitting Bull in the position of a 
casual supervisor. The Warner film, Santa Fe Trail (1940) showed Custer, 
a lesser character in the film, graduating from West Point in the accus- 
tomed manner. Yet in They Died With Their Boots On, in which Custer 
was the main figure, a film made by the same studio only a year later, 
the audience saw General Sheridan commissioning Custer before his 
graduation and dispatching him forthwith to Washington where Union 
forces, expecting a Confederate attack momentarily, were desperately 
short of manpower. Here we have a clear-cut example of historical in- 
cident being manipulated to suit script requirements. 

Historical events apart, neither film presented a very realistic picture 
of Custer the man. In Santa Fe Trail, played by Ronald Reagan, he was 
a quiet, sincere, and dedicated soldier; as written for Errol Flynn, he 
became the embodiment of the daredevil soldier, contemptuous of orders, 


Douglas Kennedy as one of the later, unsympathetically treated General Ousters. From Sitting 
Bull (1954). 

f *m 



more concerned with a fight for its own sake than for its underlying 
causes. Later, of course, according to this particular script, he became 
something of an idealist. In actuality, brilliant soldier or not, Custer had 
a mass of neurotic complexes — an aspect of him that no motion picture 
has yet presented, although there were good hints of it in the distinctly 
and deliberately critical and unpleasant Custer portrait presented in 
Sitting Bull. 

One wonders now whether or not movie traditions sometimes have a 
more lasting effect than the authentic traditions they copy. For example, 
Custer's famed Seventh Cavalry, wiped out at the Little Big Horn, was 
subsequently reformed as a cavalry unit and retained as a permanent 
force in the United States Army. The Seventh Cavalry is still in action 
today and, like Custer himself, it utilizes flamboyant accessories to 
glamorize a regulation uniform — including cavalry boots, a western- 
style neckerchief and, among the officers, cavalry sabres. From several 
first-hand accounts, it seems that these "descendants" of Custer adopt 
a swaggering behavior more than casually related to, although some- 
what enlarged upon, the behavior of the cavalry officers in a John Ford 

Hollywood's portrayal of Geronimo created the false impression that 
the Apaches were the most warlike Indians of all. Actually, although 
savage fighters, they were comparatively few in number, and far less 
troublesome than many lesser-known tribes. The capture of Geronimo, 
too, has been fictionalized in diverse ways, especially in the film 
Geronimo (1939), in which he is captured attempting to kill a white 

In the modern Western, airplanes, helicopters, and even atomic missiles became standard props. 
From Roy Rogers' Bells of Coronado (1950). 


trader in a cavalry encampment. Another Western, / Killed Geronimo 
(1950), had him killed off in a last-reel fist fight. Universal's Walk the 
Proud Land (1956) finally told the true and comparatively straightfor- 
ward account of how the warrior was induced to surrender. The serious 
approach of William S. Hart, the singular — although romanticized — 
interpretation of John Ford, the wholly or partially rigorous renditions 
of David W. Griffith, Thomas Ince, James Cruze and other film-makers 
concerning the true atmosphere of the old West are drowned in a sea of 
distorted, standardized cliches. The American public, in part at least, 
recognized these cliches for the counterfeits they were. It is this same 

public, largely the Eastern audience, which has lately indicated its ap- 13 

proval and acceptance of a more realistic and historically accurate 

A new cycle has thus emerged in the contemporary cinema. In the 
past, Hollywood frequently used the Western as a proving ground for 
directors many of whom later achieved fame in other genres (e.g. 
Edward Dmytryk, William Wyler) and planned its Western output 
almost on the basis of calculated laboratory formula. Now, without new 
inspiration, Hollywood found itself regarding its perennial bread-and- 
butter in a new light. The renewed success and popularity of the 
Western, stimulated by the dumping of literally hundreds of "B" 
Westerns on television, has led to a gradual revamping of policies, to- 
ward a recognition of the need to present the West in more realistic terms. 
This has taken place in the midst of a competitive situation in which 
Hollywood has had to produce fewer films, of better quality. 

The ultra-streamlined Westerns of Autry and Rogers brought together, 
in weird fashion, the standard ingredients of the old-time Westerns 
(chases, cattle stampedes, gunslinging, saloon fights) with contemporary 
elements (night clubs, radio, television, chorus girls, high-powered cars, 
jet-rockets, uranium deposits). Although Autry and Rogers no longer 
make theatrical Westerns, they often incorporate these innovations — 
admittedly to a much lesser degree than hitherto — into their television 
Westerns. And, of course, their late theatrical Westerns do still occasion- 
ally play in American theatres and more frequently on television. They 
are still regularly seen in Europe, always slower to absorb the huge 
quantities of "B" Westerns. Thus, old and new Westerns are available 
side by side, to further cloud the already confusing issues. 

Today, the main street of Dodge City is a drab and rather unattractive 
artery, without the slightest resemblance to the picturesque terminal of 
the western trail. Tombstone jealously preserves its Crystal Palace 
Saloon, the old headquarters of Wyatt Earp's enemies. Deadwood sur- 


vives as a little city in South Dakota, earning its money from the gold 
industry and the exhibition of an assortment of fake Wild Bill Hickok 
relics, including Wild Bill's "death chair," complete with bullet holes 
and painted bloodstains. A series of towns tries to perpetuate the tradi- 
tion of the old West to attract tourist business; Covered Wagon Day, 
Pioneer's Day, Frontier Days, Old Times are some of the celebrations 
periodically organized, with a shrewd commercial instinct, in cities and 
towns like Prescott, Fort Worth, Cheyenne, Dodge City, and Gallup. 
The last laugh in the adulteration of the Wild West is represented by 
Las Vegas, a small Mormon center founded in 1855, and maintained 
n by that religious body for more than fifty years as a devout community 

refusing to consider itself a part of the generally lawless era in which it 
lived. Today gambling and easy divorce bring masses of Americans to 
the modern part of the city, and while the old section continues its calm 
and uneventful existence, the fabulous gambling halls of the new city 
(where floor shows can afford to pay a well-shaped chorus girl two hun- 
dred dollars a week plus, and hire famous show-business entertainers) 
aim for an ever larger business running into millions of dollars. The Las 
Vegas "cowboys" today are not the grim and unshaven gunfighters of 
old, but "plain folk" from all parts of the Union, dressed in gaudy out- 
fits. The Las Vegas cowboys are the products created by Hollywood, and 
the grotesque masquerade in only one way connects up with the open 
towns of another time: if Las Vegas is more or less open today, it is be- 
cause the underworld has really gone underground in respectable 

Ironically, one of the few authentic traditions of the West is displayed 
annually in — among other cities, of course — New York. That tradition 
and heritage is the rodeo, once the cowboys' way of letting off steam, of 
competing among themselves, and of displaying the skills of their trade 
by riding wild horses and steers, bulldogging cattle, roping, etc. Since the 
excitement and danger of the rodeo is authentic, and cannot be stream- 
lined (there is no way of informing a wild Brahma bull that he must 
behave according to the 1962 concepts of 1895 life) the rodeo remains a 
genuine and thrilling experience. Of course, it has been both commer- 
cialized and vulgarized: big name attractions, usually children's idols 
from television (Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, The Lone Ranger, Rin Tin 
Tin and others) are brought in as stars, and perform their somewhat 
tame specialties like songs and roping tricks to the delight of the young- 
sters, and to the disgust, no doubt, of the seasoned rodeo riders risking 
their necks for a fraction of the star's salary. The sale of Roy Rogers but- 
tons, cowboy outfits, guns, and other staple star accessories is a lucrative 

business permeating every aspect of the modern rodeo. But when rider 
and wild horse are alone in the arena for an unrehearsed contest, in which 
the animal is often the winner, the commercial gimmicks must take a 
back seat and the spectator may share the rodeo rider's agony as John 
Huston's direction of The Misfits (1961) demonstrated. This is one un- 
changing and elementary part of the West that was. It is an aspect that 
is relatively unknown outside the United States, since the cost of trans- 
porting the vast amount of livestock around the world would be prohib- 
itive. In many countries — notably England — permits may not be issued 
for such exhibitions, on the ground that rodeos violate regulations concern- 
ing cruelty shown to animals. This is unfair, for the animals undergo no 

Montgomery Clift and Clark 
Gable roping wild horses in a 
scene from The Misfits (1961). 

harsher treatment than they do, or did, in the course of a spring roundup. 
It is not surprising to note, therefore, that the alleged "Wild West" 
shows put on in England by such Western stars as Gene Autry and Tex 
Ritter have been extremely tame, and with their emphasis on musical 
and low comedy elements they have represented a grave disappointment 

to juvenile audiences expecting fast Western action. Australia, on the 
other hand, with its outdoor heritage and history not dissimilar to 
America's, does, however, reflect this heritage in its own rodeos, all 
staged on traditional cowboy lines. The Western being the most Amer- 
ican of all cinematic genres and representing — as stated by Italian critic 
Giulio Cesare Castello — "a common patrimony because among all 
themes it is perhaps, in its primitiveness, the most universal one," had a 
mythological, human, social, and dramatic appeal which the subsequent 
trend towards assembly-line, studio production ignored, with only a few 
exceptions. But the adulterated "grade B" Western, necessarily shot on 
ig location, saved the day for Hollywood, as we shall see. 

Ernest Callenbach affirms that "in a sense, therefore, the Westerns 

the western provided a link of continuity from the earliest years of the cinema to 

the later work of the documentary school: in their unassuming simplicity 

they supplied evidence that the real world could furnish abundant 

drama for the camera." 

The monotonous Hollywood carousel of battles against badmen and 
Indians continued for many years, a gross distortion of historical fact 
and the pioneering spirit. 1 

The cataclysm of World War II, the rapid advance in the movies' 
technology, the appalling world-wide decay in moral and intellectual 
values, were the concomitant factors in the appearance of a truly remark- 
able film, which presented the frontier in proper proportion, a film which 
pioneered the new Western. William Wellman's The Ox-Bow Incident 
(1943) was a successful experiment in social comment, striking out at, 
in the name of authenticity, the dignity of and America's respect for the 
agony of a breed of pioneers, the whole false picture which the horse 
opera had presented to Americans. The frontier as a day-by-day chron- 
icle of grim, gray, dedicated humanity, all its passions realistically ex- 
posed, was now seen for the first time. The psychological and social 
trend, this trend toward the truth at last, was followed in The Gunfighter 
(1950) and High Noon (1952), while John Ford attempted a personal 
interpretation of Custer's Last Stand in Fort Apache (1948), although 
Ford did not refer in every case to history. 

1 It is therefore not surprising to read that in a study conducted in 1942 by the Motion Picture 
Research Bureau with two thousand respondents in forty-five towns, the percentage reserved to 
the influence of the Western as a selective criterion for attending the showing of motion pic- 
tures in theatres indicated that 6.9% men liked the genre, but 7.4% disliked it; this feeling 
was even more antagonistic among women, since 1.5% came out in favor of it, while 14.4% 
expressed themselves against it. The rest of the overall percentage was represented by the in- 
fluences derived from other genres: drama, comedy, gangster pictures, musicals, et cetera. 

James Stewart proposes marriage to 
Debra Paget in a scene from Broken 
Arrow (J 950). 

Town marshal Gary Cooper has to 
shoot it out alone in a scene from High 
Noon (1952). 

The rehabilitation of the Indian was a must, but Delmer Daves' 
Broken Arrow (1950) tended to go too far in the opposite direction, and 
several later films have had whites in the villains' roles. Although fail- 
ures from a serious historical and sociological point of view, films like 
Sitting Bull (1954) and Broken Arrow nevertheless displayed an attitude 
in the desire to approach the real frontier from a radically different point 
of view. The Indian is finally achieving his important place in the 
Western saga just as the Negro in Southern literature is becoming, in the 
words of Callenbach, "a moral problem and a symbol." 

Definite progress can be noted in the sympathetic and realistic depic- 
10 tion of the American Indian when one compares Broken Arrow with the 

similar Run of the Arrow (1957), directed by Samuel Fuller some seven 
the western years later. Although Run of the Arrow is a lesser film, far too sensational 

and unnecessarily brutal, far too little given to the gentle poetry that so 
distinguished Delmer Daves' earlier film, it is nevertheless a basically 
honest picture. Both deal with a white man who comes to the Indians 
as a sympathetic stranger, learns their ways, and lives as one of them. 
In Broken Arrow, the hero's first meeting with the Apaches comes just 
after he has seen the mutilated bodies of two whites, tortured to death by 
the Indians. Thus the cliche image of Indians as brutal savages is initially 
sustained, although there will be no more such brutality in the film. Once 
the hero and the Apache chief, Cochise, have gradually formed a firm 
friendship, the worthwhile point is made that the Indians are also human 
beings, with a code of behavior worth respecting. But that code is made 
to resemble the white man's code; it is a "civilized" code because it is a 
reasoning one, devoid of barbarity. The earlier episode of callous torture 
is ignored, and it is hoped that the audience will not recall it. Run of the 
Arrow likewise introduces its hero to the Indians — in this case the 
Sioux — in a savage episode of torture emphasizing the barbaric nature 
of the Indians. By the time white man and Indian finally make friends, 
the film has established that grounds exist for compromise, a mutual re- 
spect for bravery and basically similar religious beliefs. The climax 
comes in a shocking scene in which the Sioux, in accordance with their 
tribal laws, put to death a captured white man, slowly skinning him 
alive. It is this act which finally forces the hero to the conclusion that 
he can no longer live as a Sioux; he acknowledges that the Sioux have 
a perfect right to live, unmolested, by their codes, but he is also forced 
to the reluctant admission that their codes can never be his. He then 
returns to his people, taking with him his Indian wife and adopted 
Indian child. The solution is more mature than the one presented in 
Broken Arrow. In Daves' film, the hero, after having lost his Indian wife 

— killed in a contrived skirmish — rides through the wilderness alone, 
condemned to a lonely life in a no man's land somewhere between the 
world of the whites, which would not accept him because of his friend- 
ship with the Indians and his past marriage to an Indian girl, and the 
world of the Indians, which he could not entirely accept, being a white 
man. In proportion, and for its year (1950), Broken Arrow was the more 
outspoken film, since its ideas were then less certain of sympathetic ac- 
ceptance than the more advanced ideas expressed years later in Run of 
the Arrow. 

Moral issues symbolically presented are appearing in an increasing 
number of films. The Western theme is no more being exploited merely 
as a commercial product. True, even today the mass of Westerns are, of 
course, mostly commercial, but the knowledge that the Western "has 
come of age" has not failed to impress some creative men. George 
Stevens has already recognized the mythological potential of the fron- 
tier sage with his Shane (1953), as has Fred Zinnemann with his High 

Andre Bazin in Cahiers du Cinema (Christmas, 1955 issue) insisted on 
the recent vein of the "Sur- Western," stressing the romamsation of frontier 
themes, using a very happy expression in our opinion. It is exactly the 



Brandon De Wilde bids farewell to his 
idol, the gunfighter Shane, played by 
Alan Ladd. A scene from Shane 

"Sur- Western" of today that is the basis for a truly remarkable series of 
experiments made by Mann, Ray, Dmytryk, Aldrich, Brando, and other 
directors in order to achieve in due time, and with sensitivity, cultural 
research, and a genuine enthusiasm a new approach in the "Discours sur 
la Methode du Western." The difficulties in rehabilitating the frontier spirit 
in the cinema are many and relevant. Let us not forget the pulp and 


rt^ : #«r*% 



trash magazines, the comic strips, the easy merry-go-round routine of 
sheriffs and rustlers, still impressing the minds of both the young and 
adult. Let us remember Gene Autry's "Ten Commandments of the 
Cowboy," which gained the approval of the motion picture industry, 
distributors, church groups, and grateful parents. Under this code, the 
cowboy becomes a sort of adult Boy Scout. He must not take unfair 
advantage, even when facing an enemy. He must never go back on his 
word, or on the trust confided in him. He must always tell the truth, be 
gentle with children, elderly people, and animals. He must not advocate 
or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas. Moreover, he must 

help people in distress, be a good worker, keep himself clean in thought, 
speech, action, and personal habits. He must respect women, parents, 
and his nation's laws. He must neither drink nor smoke. And finally, 
the cowboy is a patriot. 

Let us keep in mind the hostility of many producers toward social 
themes. It is easier to let French sociologists write about the Western 
hero as a frustrated man, who finds needed satisfaction, the "safety 
valve," in releasing the charges of his gun, a typical phallic symbol. Yes, 
the Westerner was puritanically inhibited, but he did not sublimate his 
desires with his pistol. And yet Hollywood, horrified, has not explained 
this particularly vital situation to the audiences. However, a few years 
ago, a marvelous sequence in Robert Wise's Tribute to a Bad Man (1956) 
gave us a clue. In this Western film depicting the adventures of a 
rancher who lays down his own law 
of necessity in a wild country, the 
camera focuses on a group of cow- 
boys resting in their bunks; over- 
head, on the next floor, the rancher's 
woman plays the piano. Finally the 
music stops. In the silence the men 
look at each other and so express 
their thoughts. Upstairs, a man and 
a woman have begun to make love, 
while they, the cowboys, are left to 
their physical and psychical lone- 
liness. This is an example of cine- 
matic and sound treatment which 
is still worth the hope of those — and 
there are many — who want a true 
description of the frontier. 

Shooting the buffalo hunt for The Last 
Hunt {1956) in South Dakota. 


But many worthy projects are ruined. In The Last Hunt (1956) the 
director, Richard Brooks, could have achieved a truly great Western in 
this story of the buffalo hunters, the men who destroyed in less than thirty 
years a fantastic patrimony of sixty million beasts. But the paranoic in- 
stinct presented by Robert Taylor as a killer and the saccharine love story 
hopelessly drained the most vital content of the film. Still, this was an 
interesting experiment, and the documentary sequences of the shooting 
of some of the surviving three thousand buffaloes in the reservation — in 
order to keep down their biological reproduction — provided an unfor- 
gettable vision of earlier times, lived by a different breed of men. Worth 
22 noting for its stark impact in visual, dramatic terms is the death of the 

neurotic villain, Taylor, in the film's closing reel. He has cornered his 
the western more sympathetic partner (Stewart Granger) and the Indian girl 

(Debra Paget), who had been his own unwilling mistress before turning 
to Granger for protection, in a cave. The two men vow to duel to the 
death in the morning, and Taylor wraps himself outside in a buffalo hide 
as shelter from a blizzard. In the morning, as Granger comes to shoot it 
out with his former associate, now his deadly enemy, he is greeted with 
the grim sight of Taylor frozen to death in the buffalo hide, during the 
fury of the night's blizzard. Director Brooks spares nothing in this 
sequence, putting it over for shock effect with a sudden close-up and a 
thunderous musical score. In itself an unimportant plot element, it is 
interesting to note, however, that this is one of the few examples of 
death on the range presented horribly. In depicting death in ugly and 
realistic terms, Brooks made a minor, but positive contribution to the 
growing school of serious artists and students of the Western genre. 

A somewhat romantic old-timer remembered that the cowboys "were 
dressed differently; they had their own language, code and costume. 
They lived by the gun and died by the gun. There were seldom any 
cowards among them. They loved best the open range, the sky, the 
mountains, and the breathless expanse of their wild, untamed land . . ." 
But they were also human beings, who only recently have arrived from 
a conformist shell to be presented realistically with their universal 
values intact. 

If the present trend continues, the Western film of today may constitute 
a rocky surface on which talented and sensitive men of the new schools 
of thought, more at one with our own day, will finally be able to dedi- 
cate their efforts to the frontier as part of the American heritage. They 
will truly present the unparalleled phenomenon of the West in the 
nation's history; they will give cultural expression to a significant 
mythology which knows no geographical or human limits, spreading 
the word on the authentic "homo americanus." 

Only then, will the vehement verses of Black Bart, the PO-8, no 
longer be applicable to dishonest manipulators of the true Western 
theme; these men will be in eclipse. This history to follow of the Western 
film will reflect our respect for truly creative achievements based on the 
real Western theme, our uncompromising criticism towards that medi- 
ocrity which, according to Jose Ortega y Gasset, has the gall to try to 
impose its rights everywhere. 

Contents and 

The stereotype villain of the Thirties: 
a Mexican, oily, ugly, gross, over- 
dressed. This is Richard Cramer 
who was so villainous that he was 
actually much better as a burlesqued 
heavy in Laurel and Hardy comedies. 

The hero 

loral influence 
of the Western 

'We'll give them a fair trial, 
and then hane them.'" 


The Western theme, based on the triplex 
system of the hero, the adventure, and the 
law, has at all times been fascinating to movie 
audiences. In the long, sometimes straight- 
forward, but often tortuous road towards de- 
velopment, the motion pictures have pre- 
sented the theme with different approaches 
and results. But in its more than fifty years 
of existence, the Western film has completed, 
from at least a moral point of view, a first 

The early Westerns, approached in a 
quasi-documentary fashion, were charac- 
terized by sincerity of sentiment and a poetic 
spirit. Later, the attention of film-makers to 
the genre jeopardized its freshness, and only 
William S. Hart's undeniable contributions 
to realism stressed the morality inherent in 
the West's history. This was true in the 
sense that an authentic depiction of this 
history made the spectator feel he was wit- 
nessing not merely casual entertainment but, 
rather, a serious and dignified visual discus- 
sion of an era which had already passed into 
the nation's heritage. 

The epic, which enlarged the Western for 
audiences with the depths of its research 
and the advantages of a gradual aesthetic 
and commercial development in movies, 
further enhanced the genre's prospects. But 
studio policies, guided by the public's clamor 
for more modern, lighter, "escapist" West- 
erns — the fast, showy vehicles of Ken May- 
nard and Hoot Gibson, for example — 
brought about the first fundamental change 



I1II \V I- M I K N 

in the contents and morals of the Western. From now on, the cowboy 
was not necessarily the successor to the pioneer; he was no longer just the 
man who toiled hard raising cattle or defending the land barons' priv- 
ileges, the man whom the Great Cattle Depression of 1886-87 forced to 
roam the West looking for ways and means of supporting himself. An ideal- 
ized, whitewashed hero emerged, his character influenced by the various 
codes of associations, clubs, and groups. This new "hero" reached his 
zenith the closer he followed Gene Autry's "Ten Commandments of the 
Cowboy," listed in the previous chapter. All promulgated codes of 
morality are inevitably influenced by current moral trends; and the per- 
fectly acceptable behavior of the Western hero in the Twenties might be 
considered by some today as the ultimate in un-Americanism. We have 
a perfect example of this in a mild and quite unimportant Western of 
1925 entitled Shooting Square. In it, the hero and heroine are to be mar- 
ried, and while they celebrate with a party at the ranch, a cowhand is 
sent to bring the preacher. The preacher, it turns out, is a Negro. 
Although he is presented likably, certain aspects of the traditional 
image of the comic Negro persist. His clothes are ill-fitting and he 
speaks — subtitles, of course — in traditionally stereotyped fashion. "I'se de 
preacher," is his first line upon greeting the distinctly shocked gather- 
ing. The result is astounding. The heroine almost faints and, indignantly 
returning the hero's ring, asks him: "How can you treat me like this?" 
The heroine's outraged father appears to be in a lynching mood, and 

Saloon girl Louise Glaum, villain Robert Mc- 
Kim, and reformed outlaw William S. Hart in 
The Return of Draw Egan {1916). 

he orders the Negro from the ranch. The little preacher is bustled out 
as quickly as possible. 

Later, however, the hero (Jack Perrin) restores himself to the heroine's 
favor, by assuring her that he meant no harm. The line that clinches 
the reconciliation is: "I didn't know he was black." All this is treated 
casually; the incident is not used to incite racial hatred. Jack Perrin's 
hero is otherwise absurdly virtuous, possessed in abundance of the nine 
other commandments. 

Today, of course, if such a sequence were included in a film, whole- 
sale picketing would automatically result, and possibly even violence. 
Later in the film, hero and heroine seek out a white minister, and are 
then "married" by an apparent preacher, actually an outlaw in dis- 
guise; the heroine's discovery that her marriage is illegal provokes a 
much less concerned reaction from her than did her encounter with the 
authentic, but colored, minister! 

The cowboy-hero, this bulwark of physical and moral strength, was 
the backbone in the boom of the "B" Westerns in the Thirties. But his 
influence was felt in the epics that were then being made (Jesse James, 
The Oklahoma Kid, Union Pacific, Stagecoach — all in 1939), and this in- 
fluence generally continued to be felt in the philosophy and policies of 
movie producers right through World War II. 

It is no surprise, therefore, to notice that right after the end of the War, 
the ferment of new times began to exert its influence toward a revision 
of the cowboy cliche. There was a marked move to make the hero a less 
idealized character; his aims might continue to be those of the chivalrous 
knight, but he was too much of a realist to achieve those aims chival- 
rously. The war had destroyed too many illusions. 

Bill Elliott was perhaps the foremost exponent of this new "realism" 
in a series of Westerns made for Monogram and Allied Artists. The El- 
liott Western saw a number of remarkable changes in the makeup and 
behavior of the Western hero. In Bitter Creek, the hero needs information 
from a villain and, wasting no time playing the gentleman, Elliott 
proceeds to beat the information out of him, all the time keeping him 
covered with a gun. The villain protests: "You wouldn't get away with 
this if you'd put that gun down!" In the old films, of course, such 
a taunt would have led to the hero's dropping both gun and belt and 
proving that right must always win by beating the tar out of his oppo- 
nent in a fair fist fight. Elliott is not taken in, however; he replies: "But 
I'm not going to put it down," and proceeds to slug away until the 
"heavy" gives in and makes his confession. 

In Kansas Territory (1952) Elliott also resorts to brutal methods to run 

Bill Elliott, who emu- 
lated William S. Hart in 
his Westerns of the 
Forties and Fifties. A 
scene from Waco (1952). 

down the man responsible for the death of his brother, and in at least 
two films in the series, Waco (1952) and Topeka (1953), he plays an out- 
law for most of the film — not a lawman posing as an outlaw in the time- 
honored tradition. 

Topeka bears a particularly close relationship to William S. Hart's The 
Return of Draw Egan (1916). In both films, the ultimate reformation is 
brought about not by genuine remorse over a life of crime, but rather 
through a more sentimental expedient: the love of a good woman. In 
both films, the hero turns on his former cronies, still hoping to turn the 
situation to his own advantage, and he "reforms" only late in the game. 
oo Elliott had the integrity not to weaken his reformation by a complete 

transformation. His reformation still works to his own advantage: 
the western through services to the community, he is pardoned; he gets the girl, and 

he keeps any stolen wealth he may have accumulated. 

A character even more obviously a product of the war was the near- 
mystical leader, quite recognizably patterned on Nazi types; however, 
he did not appear on the screen until the Nazi evil had been effectively 
minimized for the public due to the cold war. One has good examples 
of the leader-hero in such films as Arrow in the Dust (1954) with Sterling 
Hayden and The Last Wagon (1956) with Richard Widmark. The hero 
is an outlaw or an Army deserter, frequently a killer. He is reconciled 
to the fact that he is being hounded, and he is not unduly bitter about 
it. Given to contemplation, he is convinced his crime was perfectly justi- 
fied; but unconsciously placing himself apart from other men, he does 
not overly concern himself with proving his case. 

However, fate places him in the position of guiding the destiny of a 
group of men — in the Western, obviously, the wagon train to be guided 
through hostile Indian country is the perfect answer. He must maintain 
perfect discipline, to the point of extreme arrogance, brutality, and 
ruthlessness; the lives of the group are more important than the life of 
an individual; the end always justifies the means. Before the adventure 
is over, the leader-hero has not only proven himself to the group under 
his command, but has made almost unnecessary and irrelevant any 
proof concerning his earlier crime. Injurious effects the pioneer leader 
and the brutal, pragmatic cowboy may have had on youthful audiences 
were probably nullified by the completely whitewashed Western heroes 
galloping then on television. Now, however, that television has swung 
to greater realism, there may well be a far from salutary effect on 
American youth. Few films, fortunately, went quite as far as did Jack 
Slade in extolling the courage of a killer, demanding sympathy and 
understanding, if not approval, for his acts. Slade was a colorful 

Mark Stevens and Barton MacLane 
in a scene from Jack Slade (J 953). 

historical character of the post-Civil War West, a trouble-shooter for the 
stagecoach lines, and his very ruthlessness with outlaws brought with it a 
measure of law and order. Finally, however, killing became an obses- 
sion, an obsession fanned by alcohol, to the point that he became 
a menace to the law he was paid to uphold, and he was finally lynched 
by vigilantes. In the film version, this bitter end was averted, and he 
died, almost seeking death in a form of self-atonement, in a fairly fought 
gun battle. Mark Stevens acted in and co-directed this interesting and 
powerful film, but in such an overwrought fashion that it was reminis- 
cent of the German film dramas of the Twenties, such as Warning 
Shadows (1922) and that it failed to become the honest portrait of a man 
and an era that it might have been. It always seemed somewhat con- 
fusing in its demand for sympathy for a man whose very actions, in- 
cluding the crippling of a child, made such sympathy impossible. 

Generally, the war years left the scars of cynicism and bitterness on 
heroes, and it was with no surprise that we saw in The Rawhide Tears 
(1956), a well-constructed and exciting Western by Rudolph Mate, a 
hero who is a cardshark, and a heroine who willingly becomes the vil- 
lain's mistress. These matters are so much taken for granted that the 
main issue of the film becomes not the regeneration of the hero and 
heroine, but the elimination of the villain so that the love affair between 
hero and heroine, presumably now to be sanctioned by marriage, may 

The hero has been presented as an archangel without wings, a 
on superman whose main interest on this earth is to redress wrongs. This 

saccharine formula was based on the hero's rescuing a girl or a widow, 
the western left alone to administer a farm or a ranch, from the crafty scheming of 

the mortgage holder. The hero had to rely entirely upon his rather 
elementary wits — after all, the situation did not involve too much think- 
ing — and, above all, on his physical prowess, substantiated by a very ac- 
curate gun, two powerful fists, and a fast horse. 

It was to his horse that the hero perennially returned, after he had 
disposed of the villain whose intentions concerning the girl were either 
dishonest or immoral or both. Occasionally, particularly in the older 
Westerns, the hero would ride off on his horse alone, the essence of West- 
ern camaraderie, but a romance of which there had been no sign through- 
out the action, would frequently blossom in time for the fadeout. Under 
such circumstances, it became somewhat of a cliche for the horse to give 
its blessing to the union in one bit of "business" or another. The most 
common of these little routines was for the understanding horse to nudge 
his very bashful master, and in so doing force him into the arms of the 
girl. Ken Maynard and his beautiful palomino, Tarzan, made a speciality 
out of this sort of thing. 

Despite endless writings to the contrary — usually by critics who 
haven't seen enough "B" Westerns — it is by no means unheard of for 
the hero to kiss the heroine. True, such displays of emotion hold little 
appeal for the juvenile audience, and thus are usually employed, if at 
all, only at the end. Nevertheless, irresponsible writing has created the 
impression that a kiss in a "B" Western is one of the "Thou Shalt Nots," 
and that is far from the case. Although his work can hardly be discussed 
along with "B" Western cliches, William S. Hart, sentimentalist that he 
was, frequently injected prolonged embraces into his Westerns. Certainly 
Buck Jones, William Boyd, Ken Maynard, and all the others have, too, 
although admittedly Gene Autry, zealous upholder of the cowboy's 
"Commandments," has kept such scenes out of almost all of his films. 

But he would frequently add some spice for the adults. On the few oc- 
casions when he did "clinch" right in front of the camera, Autry emerged 
a trifle shamefaced afterwards, but all this was usually handled in 
a light vein. As the "clinch" approached, the camera would pan to 
Champion, Autry 's horse, who would react with surprise (stressed more 
by comic music than by his own "expression") as the audience heard 
the off-camera kiss. Then the camera would swing back to a hot-and- 
bothered Autry, wiping off lipstick, and "The End" would fade on be- 
fore any further exploitation of the situation was possible. 

Hero versus badman 

Occupying prime position in the Western genre is the group that we may 
loosely term "Hero versus Badman." In these films, the hero battles out- 
laws (bank robbers, cattle rustlers, stagecoach bandits) simply because 
good must fight evil — and triumph. Motivation for both sides is simple 
and clear-cut. Some strength is added to these Westerns when the hero 
is a U. S. marshal or some other form of law enforcement officer; in 
this way a measure of historical authenticity is added, and the fairy-tale- 
like conception of the hero as a knight seeking to right wrongs is 

The outline of the "Hero versus Badman" group was soon exhausted 
in stereotypes, and a number of sub-conflicts were added to the basic 
theme. A frequently used twist was for the hero himself to be a reformed 
outlaw, creating a moral tension (he was turning on his former friends) 
and a physical tension (he was distrusted by both sides). Because the 
hero's crimes were usually innocuous enough to permit a happy ending, 
the use of this theme had only indifferent success except in the hands of 
William S. Hart. Hart had no qualms about making himself a com- 
pletely ruthless, although never despicable, outlaw. Only his mood and 
his sense of the film dictated whether his endings were to be happy or 
sad, completely disregarding the so-called "moral considerations" of 
those pre-code days. 

Another twist in the formula might be the adding of an extra incentive 
for the hero to pursue the villain. The villain was often the actual culprit 
in a crime for which the hero, or his father, had been wrongly convicted. 
A stronger motive was for the villain to have killed or seduced the hero's 
sister. In the years right after World War II, this theme was expanded 
and made even more personal: the hero's wife, and sometimes his entire 
family, had been wiped out by the villain. This particular motif was com- 
paratively rare in the silent era, for although the movies were freer then 




of censorship restrictions and had less fear of controversial material, they 
did naturally reflect current moral trends. Divorce and remarriage were 
far less acceptable socially, and less prevalent, than they are today, and 
for the hero to be a widower raised the problem of the acceptability of a 
new love story and his ultimate marriage to the heroine. This is not to 
suggest that such themes were never utilized in silent Westerns, but 
they were certainly not used as widely, or as casually, as they were in 
such post-World War II films as Tomahawk and Distant Drums, both 
made in 1951. 

Another variation was the hero's masquerade as an outlaw. He 
would join the gang in order to bring the outlaws to justice, thus adding 
the tension of potential discovery to the standard action. This theme was 
adopted by the non-Westerns in subsequent years; in the Thirties, 
gangsters, in the Forties, Nazis, and in the Fifties, Communists, were all 
rounded up and brought to book by this enterprising method. 

Perhaps the last of many small changes in the general outline saw the 
hero framed on a murder or robbery charge. He would break out of jail 
and remain thereafter only one jump ahead of the sheriff and one jump 
behind the villains. Finally, he would manage to prove his innocence by 
subduing the leading villain. This plot itself had an alternate version in 
that, apart from being pursued by both sheriff and outlaws, the hero was 
also plagued by the knowledge that the heroine believed him to be guilty. 
This motif reached heights of absurdity, becoming virtually unwitting 
satire in a group of "B" Westerns manufactured like sausages by Colum- 
bia in the Forties. Each one had an almost identical plot and cast, and 
with monotonous regularity Iris Meredith would turn on fiance Charles 
Starrett for the murder of her father, Edward Le Saint, while the real 
miscreant — Dick Curtis — surveyed the scene with a sardonic smile from 
a safe distance. 

A classic cliche-scene from almost any Columbia "B" 
of the late Thirties or Forties, in this case The 
Stranger from Texas (1939). Left to right, in the 
roles they always played: Edward Le Saint, the 
heroine's murdered father; Charles Starrett, the hero, 
unjustly accused; villain Dick Curtis, the real killer; 
weak brother Richard Fiske, who redeems himself at 
the end; sheriff Jack Rockwell, honest but stupid; Alan 
Bridge, the murdered man's competitor and an inno- 
cent suspect; and Lorna Gray, the orphaned daughter. 

The killer (Jack Palance) 
prepares to gun down the 
farmer (Elisha Cook, Jr.) in 

a scene from Shane (1953). 

The villain 

The crimes of the badman were always prompted by a recognizable 
human emotion — greed, either for wealth or power. That greed was ex- 
pressed by robbery and murder in the more elementary Westerns, and 
in the legal manipulations which brought about the " theft" or control 
of towns and even territories, in the more elaborately plotted Westerns. 
Such immoral practices were still products of understandable minds. In 
many cases, the hero was depicted as a patient and understanding man 
who hoped, by reason, to bring about a change in the behavior of the 
villain, before swinging into physical action to affirm and enforce the 
fundamental values. 

The badman, although a brute in most cases, still represented some- 
thing that the audience could understand and possibly justify, although 
never condone, in view of the rigidly upheld code of ethics the hero repre- 
sented. "Crime does not pay," was the ubiquitous moral these Westerns 
taught, but the audience was still able to indulge vicariously in the 
various manifestations of lust and crime the screen badmen presented. 

There was subtlety in subplots which presented conflicts in the out- 
laws' methodology. Many of the villains' get-rich-quick schemes were 
essentially legal: the crimes were moral rather than legal in that the vil- 

Douglas Fowley, a stock villain in gangster films, occasionally made 
a convincing Western heavy too. A scene from Santa Fe Trail (1940). 

lains usually tried to cheat homesteaders out of potential wealth of which 
the latter themselves were not aware. One of the most reliable plots was 
for the villain to know in advance that "the railroad is coming through." 
Such an event meant, of course, that the land which the railroad would 
have to buy would become extremely valuable to its owners, and one 
can readily understand the villain's sharp business sense in trying to 
acquire all the available land in advance of the event. 

Since such practices are, of course, quite legal, it was necessary to put 
the "heavy" in an unsympathetic light — in other words, he must achieve 
legal ends by illegal means. The ranchers must be subjected to a reign 
of terror. Their cattle must be stolen to prevent their paying off notes 
on their lands held by the banks. (One of the movies' oldest cliches was 
for the town banker, outwardly the territory's most respected citizen, to 
be the brains behind the outlaw activities.) This basic idea was applied 
in other ways, too; the need for land by the cattle barons, or hidden gold 
located on the property, unknown to the owners. Manipulation of land 
away from Mexicans living in California, by voiding their old Spanish 
land grants, brought a minor racial issue into the chicanery at times, 
but this was never fully developed. 

A formidable trio of villains from Dawn 
on the Great Divide (1942): Harry 
Woods, Roy Barcroft, and Robert Frazer. 

Villains of the Thirties and Forties: Edmund 
Cobb (a Western hero in the Twenties), Roy 
Barcroft, and Bud Osborne. 

The building of a town in Cimarron (1931) 

Town scene from The Iron Horse (1924) 


The most disturbing aspect of these legal crooks was the reaction they 
provoked in the townspeople. For the most part, the citizens were all for 
taking the law into their own hands, and having it out with their 
tormentors in blazing gun battles. It is interesting to note that the vil- 
lains were usually assisted in their machinations by a crooked sheriff who 
used legal loopholes to achieve dishonest results, and that the hero's 
staunchest ally was the newspaper editor. Often this editor was the 
heroine, bravely carrying on after her father had been killed by the vil- 
lains, and who was, herself, defying' threats from the outlaws. Perhaps 
in an unconscious way, these two cliches reflect the American people's 
o£j casual acceptance of corruption in politics, and their exaggerated 

enthusiasm for the value and power of a free press. (This, of course, is 
not to decry the democratic principles behind a free press, but rather to 
suggest that in America, abuse of that freedom, beyond the bounds of 
both good sense and good taste, is sadly permitted.) 

Generally speaking, law and order is presented as somewhat ineffec- 
tual and not extraordinarily clever, but it is the unusual stupidity of the 
villains which brings about their downfall! 

The use of American history in the average horse opera has been 
mainly a matter of adaptation, the exploitation of a formula rather 
than the careful reconstruction of a period. Such films as The Covered 
Wagon and The Iron Horse apart, great events in American history have 
successfully been reduced to a stale pattern. The coming of the Pony 
Express has been depicted faithfully occasionally; far more commonly 
it has been used merely as motivation: the villains oppose it because it 
threatens their own livelihood (a monopoly on stagelines, with a govern- 
ment mail-carrying contract). The villains rouse the Indians to waylay 
riders and generally to destroy faith in the Express' mounts. The Ex- 
press accepted, more motivation was provided with the introduction of 
wild horses, culminating in an unlikely and irrelevant race between the 
two opposing parties. Such a cross-country race, with the villains pull- 
ing every trick in the book to put their opponents out of the running, 
created a rousing climax to many a Western. These endings provided 
countless opportunities for stunt men and trick riders to display their 
odd talents. 

Range wars were very much a part of the American scene, but aside 
from the factually accurate staging of the Lincoln County Wars in King 
Vidor's Billy The Kid (1930), they have been barely touched on in their 
true perspective by the Hollywood Western. The natural and under- 
standable enmity between sheepmen and cattlemen, the hatred of 
barbed wire, the control of water rights — all these elements which pro- 

voked open warfare between basically honest men have usually been pre- 
sented not for their own sake, but as instruments which the villains might 
manipulate for their own ends. The Rangers Step In (1937), Fargo (1952), 
Barbed Wire (1952) were all films in this category. 

Except in Cimarron and Tumbleweeds, the land rush had never been pre- 
sented as a moment in a nation's progress, but as a fairly common oc- 
currence (which it wasn't) which inevitably had one result — land grab- 
bers would set up a minor western crime empire. The Oklahoma Kid (1939) 
was a film in this category. 

Similarly, the conditions which produced such outlaws as Jesse James 
and the Dalton gang have been presented in so many different lights on 37 

the screen that the outsider, knowing nothing of the real facts, must be 
totally confused. This question is discussed in greater detail elsewhere 
in the book; suffice it to say here that, according to the movies, most of 
the West's outlaws were latter-day Robin Hoods, forced into banditry 
by the sordid schemes of crooked politicians and the social upheaval of 
the post-Civil War period, much as James Cagney and his brethren 
were so often forced into gangsterism after World War I, in The Roaring 
Twenties (1939), Public Enemy (1931), and other films. 

The Indian 

If most films dealt with heroes rescuing girls from villains, a large por- 
tion of the remaining ones manipulated the American Indian into the 
role of a red-skinned menace. Except for the first phase in the history of 
the Western, and the contemporary phase, the Indian's existence in the 
United States has been dealt with by the movies in a stereotyped man- 
ner. The tragedy of the Indian tribes, pushed backwards and back- 
wards again in violation of treaties and agreements, their confinement 
on reservations where unscrupulous Indian agents exploited them shame- 
lessly, the disintegration of their fighting spirit and their traditional de- 
sire to live in peace with the white man — all these were aspects of 
Indian life which American audiences were seldom able to witness, 
evaluate, and reflect upon on the screen. 

"A good Indian is a dead Indian." This belief, which was strictly 
held and put into practice in many parts of the West, represented an 
inviolate pillar of thought for the creators of screen formulae. The most 
that the Indian could expect in Hollywood's hands was a presentation 
as the white man's equal; but this only so that he could be killed, cold- 
bloodedly, under the same "justice" that dispatched badmen who were 
white. But the Indian was usually not even granted those human fail- 



ings and influences which motivated the crimes of whites. Despite the 
writings of James Fenimore Cooper and Germany's Karl Mai whose 
many books had as much success in Germany as did the works of Zane 
Grey in America, the Indian proved to be a far less useful character to 
film-makers than the cowboy, the Texas Ranger, or even the infrequently 
seen Canadian mountie. Initially, at least, the Indian was seen as a 
hero almost as frequently as the white man, but already there was a dif- 
ference. He seemed more of a symbol, less of an individual, than the cow- 
boy, and he was presented in a more poetic, and often more tragic, light. 
But after 1910 he was not really presented as an individual at all, not 
on until the racial cycle of the late Forties. In the interim, he was an un- 

motivated enemy; villains might be presented as individuals, but the 
Indians were always shown en masse. There were very few Westerns with 
Indians as the only heavies, for the simple reason that without motive 
there could be no plot. Maynard's The Red Raiders of 1927 is one of the 
few exceptions in that it has no white villains, and depends on Indian 
aggression for its sole action. While admitting that Indians can be 
human enough to want peace, it still dealt with them as warlike children, 
and never as believable human beings. Few Westerns have emulated 
The Red Raiders' example of eliminating white villains entirely. Ford's 
Stagecoach, in which the menace is provided by the pursuit of Geronimo's 
Apaches, found it necessary to tack on a climactic (or an^-climactic) duel 
between the hero (John Wayne) and an outlaw (Tom Tyler). 

This is not to say that the Indians have always been depicted as vil- 
lainous savages; but in the bulk of the "B" Westerns their function was 
primarily to provide formula action by taking to the warpath in opposi- 
tion to the heroes. In films like Prairie Thunder (1937) they were spurred 
on by white renegades; in The Law Rides Again (1943) and count- 
less others, they took to the warpath because of fancied grievances 
against the whites (a crooked white Indian agent had been stealing sup- 
plies promised them by the government); and in Fort Osage (1952) their 
warlike actions were deliberately provoked by white renegades who 
hoped that an Indian war would cover their own depredations. In such 
Westerns, the Indian was alternately villainous and misunderstood, but 
he rarely emerged as a human being. 

This changed to a very great degree after the advent of Broken Arrow 
(1950). Once Hollywood made up its mind to make up to the Indian 
for past misrepresentation, the pendulum swung completely to the other 
side. From now on it was to be the Indian who sought peace, and the 
white man who was the agitating aggressor. But the pendulum was not 
to swing so far as to dehumanize the white man as had once been done 

to the Indian. There were always to be individual motives attributed to 
the white villain which made him atypical of his race, e.g. the villainous 
trader who knows that peace with the Indians will mean an end to his 
illicit traffic (Grant Withers in Ford's Rio Grande), and most common of 
all, the martinet military commander who hates Indians with a blind 
passion (Jeff Chandler in Two Flags West, Henry Fonda in Fort Apache) 
and is opposed to any means which will bring about a cessation of 
hostilities short of total defeat of the Indians. Since such men are almost 
always presented as complete or near-complete neurotics, they stand 
midway between guilt and innocence, and they are made to appear 
very much the exception rather than the rule. The Indian is presented 
in this case in a more realistic fashion; he is the victim rather than the 
aggressor, but the question of blame, which should rightly be placed on 
the governmental policies of that time, is neatly side-stepped. 

The authentic motives for Indian hostility were seldom, if ever, ex- 
plained; the main function of these Americans consisted in providing a 
convenient mass enemy, and a series of spectacular moving targets. 
Once the cliche was accepted, explanations of motivation were in any 
case no longer necessary. The very word Indian became synonymous 
with savagery and villainy, just as the words German, Japanese, Nazi, or 

Cochise {Jeff Chandler) com- 
forts his white man friend 
(James Stewart) when renegades 
kill his Indian bride (Debra 
Paget). From Broken Arrow 

% A 

Ruth Roland, 

Queen of the Western serials. 

Communist in themselves later became not merely descriptive nouns, but 
adjectives of automatic infamy in many areas of world and cinematic 

The woman 

The cult of the super-hero fighting the good fight in a confused and 
largely hostile world populated by white outlaws and Indian savages, 
was further developed by the role of the woman. 

Originally she was shown as the full-fledged companion of the 
pioneer, certainly his equal, and occasionally possessed of an inner 
strength that made her his superior. Later, her image deteriorated into 
that of a frail creature, forever at the mercy of the lawless element, for- 
ever dependent for protection and her livelihood upon the hero. In other 
words, she ceased to become a plot participant and became a plot moti- 
vator; defense of her honor and rights became as important in them- 
selves as the battle between law and lawlessness. Later still, towards the 
end of the Thirties, she became more self-reliant, increasingly athletic, 
and conscious of her sex appeal. In the post-war period, this sex appeal 
became an exasperating and exasperated leitmotif, which found its justi- 
fication in two fundamental exigencies of the motion picture industry: 
the reaction to the puritanism of the Production Code, exerting an 
archaic censorship over a depiction of true passion and other legitimate 
emotions, and the need to stimulate sagging box office returns. Thus 
the cycle is complete even in this important aspect of the Western: the 
image of the western women, as rendered by Hollywood, stands con- 

fused, between the sentimental and mythological conception of the pure 
but weak and defenseless female, without any personality of her own, 
essentially dependent on the hero, and the titillatingly sexual and ag- 
gressive heroine. 

Adventure and the law 

With the revision of the cowboy image, the demands of the public re- 
quired the revision of the concepts of adventure and law, two other coef- 
ficients in the Western formula. Such a process continues today with dif- 
ferent, mixed results, but the first cycle of the Western is complete. In 
fifty years, the realistic approach has been greatly adulterated and only 
recently are the real moral issues of the old West again being discussed. 

In the meantime, world audiences have had a chance to appraise the 
Western era as a totally lawless one, and the isolated examples of films 
in which a true evaluation of this historical period was possible, left only 
slight marks on audiences. Prolific grade "B" Western production (made 
probably for U. S. and British consumption and exported elsewhere only 
in a limited way) has offered an appalling series of cliches which has 
dominated American thinking concerning the West for decades. 

Adventure and the law are linked with the hero as complementing 
essentials in the visual presentation of the story. Adventure in Westerns 
has of the three most retained its classic presentation. It has always 
focused on the Great Plains as the outdoors (epitomized by grandiose 
perspectives, such as those obtained by Ford with his location shooting 
in Monument Valley for Stagecoach and other films) and on the saloon 
indoors. The stories played out against these natural or man-made back- 



A typical program Western from 
Triangle: William Desmond and 
Luella Maxim in Deuce Duncan 

drops have stuck with traditional incidents; chases, barroom brawls, 
and gun duels are necessary ingredients, basic actions that perennially 
recur in the evolution of the story. But the concept of the law has 
changed considerably indeed. The rough sketch of the sheriff of old has 
recently been undergoing changes in a psychological process, the result 
of which is a general humanization of the character. The extreme in this 
modern revaluation has tended to identify the lawman with the type of 
hero played by Gary Cooper in Fred Zinnemann's High Noon. This is 
an important metamorphosis, which may well be coupled with the 
parallel revaluation of the Indian in Delmer Daves' Broken Arrow, the 
40 film that rediscovered the obvious humanity of a conquered but still 

proud race, and that, in the words of critic Guido Aristarco, "breaks an 
the western arrow in favor of the Indians, who enter, in this way, the cinema as 


Plot versus action? 

The discovery of a "social conscience" in the Western — and this applies 
not only to films with Indian themes, but also to films like High Noon 
and At Gunpoint! which dealt with the responsibility of the individual to 
the community — had one very definite effect on Westerns. This effect 
was felt on all films, but it was most noticeable in the Western. It 
slowed them down, badly, not only in their narration, but in their over- 
all pacing. In the older Westerns, men acted; for better or for worse, 
wisely or stupidly, they acted. They didn't ponder, debate, subject their 
tortured souls to self-examination. And there is no reason to suppose that 
the pioneers of the old West acted in this pseudo-literary fashion either. 
If they did, they could hardly have survived and opened up the frontier 
as they did, even though frontier existence required, and received, 
mature thought and deliberation as well as determined action. 

Plots of "B" Westerns were rarely afflicted with these problems; the 
"B" of 1950 was little different in plot from the "B" of 1915. Such dif- 
ferences as there were, were in details rather than essentials. In keeping 
pace with the times, the Westerns introduced gangster methods into the 
villainy, and also stressed it in their titles. (Racketeers of the Range, Enemies 
of the Law, Gangsters of the Frontier, Gangster's Enemy No. 1, etc.) 

With the war in Europe brewing, standard plots were topically re- 
vamped. In a John Wayne vehicle for Republic, Pals of the Saddle, 
enemy agents illegally mined tungsten and sold it to a "foreign power" 
in violation of the U. S. Neutrality Act. In George O'Brien's Border 
G-Man, wild horses are being rounded up and sold, not to the Pony Ex- 
press, but to that same unnamed foreign power. With America's entry 

I\i I ri N( :i 

into the war, Nazi agents somewhat improbably supplanted cattle 
rustlers in films like Cowboy Commandos, Texas to Bataan and Valley of 
Hunted Men. With the war over, uranium became a more valid plot- 
motivating factor than gold or silver — and science-fiction put in some 
strange appearances, too. On one memorable occasion, Roy Rogers and 
Trigger galloped not after a runaway stagecoach, but after a runaway 
jet rocket! 

The first real glimpse of a change of morals on the screen came with 
The Outlaw. Its revamping of the Western on an erotic level did not fail 
to stir up the self-righteous indignation of both those who believed in 

the preservation of the old order in Westerns, and those pressure groups 43 

who sought and still seek to censure and stifle Hollywood on the slightest 

provocation. With the approach of postwar problems of both national contents and moral 

and international significance, problems that had arisen with the ces- 
sation of hostilities, and at a time when new values were being introduced 
into a confused climate even before the old values had been entirely dis- 
carded, the Western underwent severe changes. It was, of course, in the 
Western that the old values were primarily reflected, in a cinematic 
sense, and in a real sense for America, too; and because of this the West- 
ern had to be the principal victim in a critical dissection, the results of 
which saw traditional concepts of plot and action in the Western 
overhauled. In the Thirties Aldous Huxley lamented over the ex- 
hibition of violent Western films to Asiatic audiences, feeling that they 
presented a completely erroneous version of life in America on the 
frontier; in more recent times the trend has gone to the opposite extreme, 
in the open discussion of moral and racial problems, and in the utilization 
of psychological and literary themes. Lately, Westerns have given us a 
hero as extroverted or introverted as a character in Gide or Kafka; his 
action is presented in a far more complex and measured fashion than 
was ever possible within the bounds of the cliche of the fast gunman. 
Greater realism in the actions of individuals, projected against the back- 
ground of, or submerged within the collectivity of western merchants, 
farmers, and ranch hands, has begun to materialize. 

The honest and dignified mien now allowed the Indian, the shifting 
of emphasis back to the real pioneer, the re-emphasis of the woman's 
important and equal role in the opening up of the West, the considera- 
tion of the human qualities, the failings as well as the heroism of the law 
enforcer ... all these changes have taken root in the new era of West- 
erns, and even the least important, and least ambitious films aesthetically, 
show unmistakable signs of these changes. Certainly far too many of 
these films are little more than maladroit and pretentious essays in 
sociology and psychology; the action has slowed down drastically, but 

the mere existence of these Westerns provides a welcome, if no longer 
refreshing, note. 

There is a certain moral dimension to the modernization of the 
Western, modern not in the sense of streamlined, but in the sense of 
mature in our time. This moral dimension is expressed in the effort made 
by producers and directors to find inspiration in original sources, and in 
so doing abandoning stale cliches. But these undertakings, or at least 
the successful ones, are still relatively isolated instances, and praise- 
worthy as it is to clean house of old cliches, it is regrettable to see, even 
now, a great many new ones coming into being. But at least this signals 
aa evolution and, hopefully, progress. It is certainly not stagnation. A 

healthier, more realistic influence is being brought to bear on those movie 
the western audiences — still large — that love the Western. Instinctively, the audience 

realizes that it has been deprived for a long time of the true and 
unvarnished depiction of one of the most essential and interesting 
periods in American history. The Western no longer represents an in- 
nocuous adventure story, supplemented at home by children playing 
"Cowboys and Indians." Before World War II, the United States audi- 
ence and the international public were confronted with great numbers 
of "entertainment commodity" Westerns: some attracted top playing 
time in metropolitan centers; others — a majority — were cheaply made 
five-reelers designed for more general consumption in small towns and 
rural areas. 

The oleographic conceptions of story presentation, and the archaic 
formulae, largely devoid of any creativity or artistry, did not lead to a 
general protest over the so-called moral values presented, for the simple 
reason that patent immorality did not manifest itself on the screen. The 
games of chase and fight, of crime and retribution, had become so con- 
ventional that the public looked at them without having to think on the 
subject, and certainly without being deeply moved by it. In the postwar 
years, this began to change, and the pressing requirement for firmly 
established plot lines in conjunction with fast action is generally recog- 
nized now, even among the most emphatic supporters of the "psycho- 
logical Western," since an effective, interdependent, and mutually 
beneficial relationship between plot and action is a prime requirement 
for successful — that is, honest — Westerns. 

Necessity for a living legend 

The new moral strength of the Hollywood Western lies in its statement 
to audiences that life in the old West, notwithstanding the falsely 


glamorized and savage portrait that Hollywood painted in the past, was 
hard, monotonous, but also heroic ... a life that had neither gods nor 
devils; Hollywood has begun to inform the public that the West was 
peopled with simple human beings with all their strengths and weak- 
nesses, a folk not very different from those in the audience. 

In due time, and with proper care, such a tradition should acquire 
all the necessary attributes of a living legend, a myth whose authentic 
example will be accepted by the American nation in its true perspective. 
Non-American, and specifically European audiences have always ap- 
proached the Western in an enthusiastic manner, granting even the 

poorer examples some poetic and realistic foundations which are often 45 

baseless. This enthusiastic attitude is often not shared by American 
audiences who regard the Western naturally, without the emotional 
enthusiasm for the "foreign" and the "exotic," which is what the 
Western signifies for the European. These non- American audiences then, 
kindly disposed towards the Western in any event, have been even 
quicker to accept and approve the mature changes in the Western for- 
mat than have their American counterparts. 

The combined effects of public taste, the reflections of modern times 
and the need — now a commercial as well as an aesthetic need — to pre- 
sent the Western in a more adult framework, are all causing Hollywood 
to take into consideration, both directly and indirectly, the moral in- 
fluence of their Western product in artistic, social, and human terms. 
Some of the more dynamic producers of this new school may well know 
that the vital requirement in their efforts is progression instead of the 
tested but untrue status quo. The American cinema, on the basis of its 
past achievements, has the key to a splendid future in developing the 
fine resources of its epic past. And if the gangster film, the Civil War film, 
and other branches of adventure in the motion picture, all find their 
roots in the Western, there is all the more reason to perfect the purest 
and most original genre of the American cinema. 

Such a challenging ideal might in itself bring about a true renaissance 
in the American cinema, and with it renewed support from the movie 
audiences of the United States and abroad. 

The Primitives: 

Edwin S. Porte 

and Broncho 
Billy Anderson 

"A film without emotional feeling 
is scarcely worth consideration." 


The Great Train Robbery 

The Great Train Robbery, made in 1903, has 
often been erroneously described as "the 
first story film," "the film that introduced 
narrative to the screen," "the first Western" 
and the "film with the first close-up." It was 
actually none of these things, but it was the 
first dramatically creative American film, 
which was also to set the pattern — of crime, 
pursuit, and retribution — for the Western 
film as a genre. 

The Edison company had played with 
Western material for several years prior to 
The Great Train Robbery. Cripple Creek Bar- 
room of 1898 was a brief vignette of Western 
life. Buffalo Bill Cody had been filmed, and 
so had some of the simple action "acts" 
(Indians scalping white men) that had proved 
so popular at Koster and Bial's Music Hall. 
But The Great Train Robbery was no mere 
vignette. Almost a reel in length, it was a 
remarkably polished film for 1903; it told a 
dramatic story visually, and without subtitles; 
it cut between interiors and exteriors with 
fluidity; it utilized good visual compositions; 
and it built its tension astonishingly well, 
considering that editing for dramatic effect 
was then unknown and director Porter had 
no precedents to which he could refer. 

The film was largely shot on a track of 
the Delaware and Lackawanna Railroad 
near Dover, New Jersey. Its locale was, of 
course, supposed to be the Far West, where 
train holdups were still by no means un- 

The Great Train Robbery opens with a se- 




quence in the interior of a railroad telegraph office; a typical early 
movie set, photographed in typically static long-shot fashion. However, 
there is an unusual effect: the arrival of the train shown through a win- 
dow. Certain historians have claimed that this was achieved by con- 
structing the set immediately adjacent to the railway track, but in 
actual fact a good, if occasionally unsteady, superimposition was the 
modus operandi. 

The bandits bind the telegraph operator; then, a cut to an exterior. 
As the train pauses by the railroad's water tower outside, the bandits 
board it. From the New Jersey exterior locale, Porter then cuts to 
a studio interior set of the express car. This, of course, is elementary 
movie-making, but was not so in 1903, when films (tDther than the 
fantasies of Melies) were usually limited to single sets and single time- 
spans, in order to avoid confusing the audience. Porter then switches to 
another exterior, his camera placed on the rear of the tender, photo- 
graphing the train in motion. The villains approach, and overpower the 
drivers. There is a well-staged scrap, and in a particularly deft piece of 
stop-motion work, dummies are substitued for the actors before they are 
thrown from the moving train. The callous treatment of the drivers 
seems to have been a deliberate attempt by Porter to emphasize that he 

Very possibly the first Western of any kind, 
W. K. L. Dickson's Cripple Creek Bar- 
room was made by the Edison Company 
in 1898. 


was not glamorizing outlaws undeserving of sympathy. This is further 
emphasized when the train stops and an incredible horde of passengers — 
presumably the entire population of Dover — descends. One of them 
makes a break for freedom, and is shot down in cold blood. 

Their loot secured, the bandits escape in the train, bring it to a halt 
some distance up the track, and in a long and smoothly executed 
panning shot, retreat into the woods. The crime established, the devel- 
opment now cuts abruptly to the forces of law and order. At the tele- 
graph office, the operator's little daughter discovers the plight. The film 
cuts again, this time to the dance hall — a simple set, with painted back- 
drops, but with so much activity going on that its synthetic quality is 49 
not too stridently apparent. With an energetic quadrille in progress, a 
tenderfoot is forced to dance, the Westerners shooting at his heels to 
spur him on. This sequence not only presented an interesting slice of 
Americana to early movie audiences, but it was also a singular attempt 
at greater conviction in rounding out the story with background ma- 
terial. In addition, it was a method of increasing suspense; the audience 
knew that the telegraph operator would arrive momentarily to seek the 
aid of the cowboys, and that knowledge kept interest at a high level. 
The final section of the film — the chase, the robbers thinking they are 
safe dividing the spoils, and then being surprised and bested in a gun 
battle — is, of course, a typical Western finish. It is the least successful 
part of the film only because Porter's actors were not experienced riders 
or stuntmen; the chase is slow and listless, and the falls unconvincing. 
However, since one must judge The Great Train Robbery not so much as 
a Western, but as a blueprint for all Westerns, criticism on the score of 
badly staged physical action is perhaps not justified. The film has a cer- 
tain emotional feeling, the basic factor in cinematic narration. 

On the strength of The Great Train Robbery, Edwin S. Porter — who 
wrote, directed, and photographed it — might well have become the 
"father" of the American cinema. (In fact, on the basis of this one 
eight-hundred foot film, many historians believe that he is already 
entitled to be considered just that.) But Porter's case is a curious and 
perhaps, for him, a frustrating and tragic one. Porter came to Edison in 
1896, a mechanic with a rare enthusiasm for experimentation. Attach- 
ing himself to the inventor's motion picture company as an all-around 
man, he worked with films for seventeen years; yet only a handful of 
films — The Great Train Robbery, The Life of an American Cowboy, (together 
with "lives" of policemen and firemen), The Kleptomaniac and Rescued 
from an Eagle's Nest can be said to have any real or lasting value, and of 
these, only The Great Train Robbery had genuinely creative cinematic con- 

tent. Porter's genius seems to have been one of dramatic construction, 
rather than of genuine cinema sense. It could well be accidental that in 
the case of The Great Train Robbery these two elements fused so well. The 
Great Train Robbery may be notable for its use of a close-up, but that 
close-up was so meaningless and ambiguous that the Edison publicity 
at the time informed exhibitors that they could use it at either the 
beginning or the end of the film. Porter realized that the scene — a full 
close-up of George Barnes, one of the outlaws, pointing his gun at the 
audience — had both dramatic and shock effect, but he seemed to 
flounder when deciding what to do with it. 
r n Just how many of Porter's limitations were inherent in the man, and 

how many were inflicted by Edison, is a matter for conjecture. Edison 
the western was not an easy man to get along with, a man who disliked his assistants' 

branching out too much on their own. An inventor and a craftsman, 
not an artist, he expected his associates to be likewise. What aesthetic 
contents the Edison films had were usually ones that found their base 
in mechanics, e.g. the lighting and camerawork were often well above 
average. In any event, despite the fact that Porter made other films, 
none showed any progression from The Great Train Robbery, and indeed 
many of them, including full-length features ten years later, exhibited a 
distinct step backward. Certainly, however, the 1903 film was a 
tremendous success. Its title alone was more dramatic, glamorous, and 
promising of excitement, than any American movie title had been up 
to that time. Its success inspired a number of sequels, imitations, 
and outright plagiarisms. Sigmund Lubin even made a film with the 
same title which duplicated the sets and action of Porter's original 
exactly, the only difference being the addition of a local bank's calen- 
dar to the interior of the telegraph operator's office — presumably 
for suitable remuneration! Other obviously derivative titles included 
The Great Bank Robbery, The Bold Bank Robbery, The Little Train Robbery, 
and Biograph's The Hold-up of the Rocky Mountain Express. The Edison 
studios remained quite faithful to the format of The Great Train Robbery 
for a number of years. Even a film as late as Across the Great Divide 
(1913) dealing in its entirety with a train robbery, had advanced from 
the original only sufficiently to lend greater motivation to the proceed- 
ings, and to establish individual characters more clearly. Actually it was 
a much duller and slower film than Porter's original. 

The title retained its magic through the years; by repeated presenta- 
tion in theatrical shorts of the "Flicker Flashback" type, The Great Train 
Robbery remained one of the most famous movie titles of all. It was used 
again in 1941, as the title of a Bob Steele melodrama for Republic, and 
currently a third version is planned by Frank Sinatra. 

With all his limitations, Porter was nevertheless the most creative single 
force in motion pictures between 1901 (when he was among the foremost 
of the "industry's" reputed total of six motion picture cameramen) and 
1908, when D. W. Griffith joined Biograph. It was Porter who, in one 
of his last notable films, Rescued from an Eagle's Nest, introduced Griffith 
to the screen. Using the name Lawrence Griffith, D. W. had tried to sell 
the Edison studios a script he had written. The studios weren't interested, 
but they did offer him the lead in Rescued from an Eagle's Nest and, in need 
of money, he accepted. Rescued from an Eagle's Nest is inferior to The Great 
Train Robbery, although admittedly it was a difficult subject to do well 
in those early days. 

The kidnaping of a baby by the eagle, and the pursuit by the father 
(Griffith) to the eagle's nest, high on a mountain ledge, was a thrilling 
enough plot premise and, in fact, it did thrill audiences in 1907. How- 
ever, the cutting between studio scenes, with their painted backdrops, 
to actual exteriors, filmed in New Jersey, merely emphasized the lack 
of authenticity of the studio exteriors. 

None of the exteriors in The Great Train Robbery had been anything 
but the real thing, only the interiors of telegraph office, saloon, and 
baggage car being studio reconstructions. The obvious painted flats of 
rocky mountains and high ledges did not match up too well with New 
Jersey's wooded slopes. The cutting was somewhat slipshod, and often 
overlapped badly. At one point Griffith is lowered over a ledge and 
climbs laboriously downwards; after a few feet of film, Porter cuts to a 
different angle, with Griffith again only just beginning the descent. 

The final fight between Griffith and the stuffed eagle was particularly 
ineptly photographed; the struggle took place at the extreme left of the 
camera set-up, yet no attempt was made to move the camera even 
slightly to catch all of the action, with the result that at least half of the 
fight is out of the frame, and the rest is overshadowed by the big ex- 
panse of black painted backdrop that dominated nine-tenths of the frame. 
The result was a fight hard to follow and devoid of dramatic realism. 
Apparently Porter and Edison never made retakes, although it is curious 
that such a patently bad — yet important — sequence should be accepted 
in such a state. 

Like The Great Train Robbery though, Rescued from an Eagle's Nest pro- 
vided some interesting commentaries on life in the early West. Pioneers 
are shown working in an organized communal fashion in the clearing 
of land and the felling of trees, and when danger threatens, all recog- 
nize their individual responsibility to the group and aid the father in 
rescuing his child from the eagle. 

Perhaps, had Porter like Griffith joined Biograph following Rescued 

Looking nothing like one of the 
first directors of Westerns, nor 
even like a pioneer cameraman 
{both of which he was), Edwin 
S. Porter looks more like a highly 
successful businessman (which 
he certainly wasn't). 

Broncho Billy Anderson, dressed in the East- 
erner's conception of the Western costume, de- 
rived largely from dime novels. 

from an Eagle's Nest, he might have 
realized his full potential as a motion 
picture director. Instead he chose to 
stay with Edison, stagnated, and 
slowly passed into obscurity. When 
he died on April 30, 1941, in his 
seventies, he had been so much for- 
gotten that the general reaction was 
one of surprise that this pioneer had 
been living until such a late date. 

The first Western star 

Another Edwin Porter graduate was 
G. M. Anderson, later better known 
as "Broncho Billy" and the first real 
Western star. Anderson stumbled 
into a role in The Great Train Robbery 
almost by accident. Assuring Porter 
that he could ride like a Texas 
Ranger, he was cast in the minor role 
of one of the bandits and he soon 
showed that he couldn't even get on 
a horse, let alone stay on it. He was 
in short order made an "extra" for 
the rest of the picture, but excited 
by the possibilities of the films — 
possibilities which he certainly 
doubted until he saw the tumultuous 
reception afforded The Great Train 
Robbery at its initial showing — An- 
derson told himself that this was the 
business for him, and went to work 
for Vitagraph as an actor and gen- 
eral production assistant. He di- 
rected a version of Raffles, The Ama- 
teur Cracksman, in 1905 for that 
company, moving to Chicago two 
years later. Chicago was then a 


minor movie metropolis with Colonel William Selig, George Kleine, and 
George K. Spoor busily engaged in the production of one-reelers. Ander- 
son went to work for Selig. Selig never was a very enterprising outfit, and 
Anderson, remembering the acclaim of The Great Train Robbery, thought 
of going off to Colorado with a cameraman, recruiting a cast out there, 
and shooting some Western adventures on location. 

The films had only indifferent success and, because Selig seemed 
apathetic to Anderson's work, Anderson looked up his old friend, George 
K. Spoor. They decided to go into business together, not realizing that 
the company they were forming, the Essanay Company (based on the 

initials, S and A, of its founders), was to become one of the most 53 

honored of all the early movie studios. Located in Chicago, it was later 
the headquarters for many of the early Charlie Chaplin, Francis 
X. Bushman and Henry B. Walthall subjects, and Gloria Swanson's 
early proving ground. 

After having directed comedies, using Ben Turpin, Anderson moved 
in late 1908 to Niles, California, and launched a West Coast studio for 
the company. He had time to think now, and he sought the reasons for 
the failure of his Selig Westerns. His conclusions were that they had tried 
too hard to repeat the formula of The Great Train Robbery; there had been 
no central character on which the audience could focus its attention. 
He now decided to build a cowboy hero, a tremendous idea in the days 
before the star system. He was literally creating the Western star, and 
laying the groundwork for cowboy heroes yet unborn. 

The difficulty, however, was to find such a star. Stage players were 
still, as a whole, reluctant to risk films. California, in any case, not being 
an entertainment center, was hardly well stocked with stage players, or 
even out-of-work actors of any description. After protracted efforts, and 
out of sheer desperation, Anderson decided to play the lead himself. He 
had once posed for a cowboy cover on the Saturday Evening Post; that, 
and his undistinguished roles in The Great Train Robbery, were his sole 
connections with the West. He could ride a little better now, but still 
not like a Texas Ranger. No longer young, he was big and beefy, with 
striking, but decidedly not handsome features. However, he could not 
worry about breaking precedents; he was making them. It was a tre- 
mendous leap, both for him and for the Westerns. His first film was 
adapted from a Peter B. Kyne story. It was titled Broncho Billy and the 
Baby, a sentimental tale with Billy playing a "good badman" who is ulti- 
mately reformed by love. It was an enormous success, and convinced 
Billy not only that he should stick with Westerns, but that he should 
use Broncho Billy as a continuing character, however, treating each 

A scene from Broncho Billy's 
Oath (1913). 

story individually, so that it would not matter how often Billy married, 
reformed, or was killed off. 

Over the next few years, Billy made close to five hundred short 
Westerns, one-reelers at first, and then two-reelers. They were the first 
real "series" Westerns, the first with an established star, and the films 
that really established Westerns as a genre. They were simple in plot 
(Billy, not being of the West himself, had to fall back on pulp magazines 
and dime novels for inspiration) and had none of the starkness or the 
documentary quality that William S. Hart was later to introduce. But 
they were often surprisingly strong and vigorous in their action content, 
with elaborately constructed and absolutely convincing Western town 
sets. The camera work was good, and Anderson, being a husky and well- 
built individual, was more than up to the action. A trifle dour in the 
later Hart tradition, he presented a reasonably realistic and not too 
glamorized portrait of the frontier's manhood. 

After a seven-year period, Anderson moved into features, but by this 
time William S. Hart had taken over the field, together with Tom Mix, 
and the veteran realized that he had missed out. He returned to 
comedies, and in the early Twenties produced a good series of Stan 
Laurel comedies for Metro release. However, like many another since, 
Billy felt that he was being treated unfairly by Louis B. Mayer. Unable 
to improve the situation, he said goodbye to films and retired. Thirty- 
five years later, in 1958, he told television audiences of his part in the 
moulding of Hollywood's cowboy formula, in the course of a ninety- 
minute show on NBC. He appeared with John Ford, John Wayne, Gene 
Autry, Gary Cooper, and others. Today, close to eighty, still alert and 
vital, he has been slowed down by a slightly lame leg, but he is eager as 
ever to talk about what must have been for him the good old days. 

It is a pity that few of the hundreds of Broncho Billy Anderson 
pictures have survived, which complicates any accurate appraisal of his 
qualities as a director. But there is certainly no denying the tremendous 
popularity of his films, or their influence on Western production generally. 

We wish to quote at this point, and in its entirety, a typical unsigned 
review of one of the Anderson Westerns, as published in The Moving 
Picture World, a trade paper, in its May 15, 1909, issue in order to stress 
the action and solidity of those primitive works: 

a Mexican's gratitude 

"An Essanay film which had some thrilling scenes and is certain to please the aver- 
age audience wherever it is shown. There is life and action without bloodshed and 
the melodramatic features are made attractive rather than repulsive. The story is 
that a Mexican is saved from being hanged as a horsethief by the sheriff. He writes 
the word 'Gratitude' on a card, tears it in two and gives one half to the sheriff and 
keeps the other half himself. Years afterward this same sheriff falls in love with a 
girl of the West. She is wanted by a cowboy and he contrives to bring the sheriff 
and another girl together, and gets the girl the sheriff loves there just in time to 
see him in the scheming girl's embrace. Explanations are impossible and he sees 
the girl he wants walk away with the false cowboy. The sheriff has a fight with 
him and forces him to confess his treachery. The cowboy goes to a Mexican's hut 
and secures the services of two greasers to do his bidding. The three lie in wait for 
the sheriff and his sweetheart, overpower them and drag them away to the 
Mexican's hut where the cowboy tantalizes the sheriff for a time and then forces 
the girl into another room. The Mexican wants some tobacco and sees a sack pro- 
jecting from the sheriff's pocket. In pulling it out, he pulls out also the half of the 
card with the word 'Gratitude' upon it. When the cowboy returns to the room he 
is comparing the card. He then asks the sheriff if that was given him by a man 
whom he saved from lynching a few years before. The sheriff replies that it was. 
Whereupon the Mexican immediately loosens the sheriff's bonds, and a fight be- 
tween the sheriff and the cowboy ensues. The sheriff has him across a table chok- 
ing him into insensibility when the girl appears and begs him to stop and they go 
away together. 

It is impossible to invest this story in telling with the life that is in the picture. 
It seems almost as though the characters were going to speak, they do their parts 
so naturally, while the staging is remarkably good. The film was heartily applauded 
in two theatres where it was seen the past week, and everyone who attends motion 
picture shows knows that applause is somewhat rare." 

Complete reliability cannot be placed on these early reviews since, of 
course, film criticism was not yet clearly defined. There were few prec- 
edents for comparisons, and many of the terms to describe film gram- 



mar and construction had not yet been devised; indeed, film grammar 
itself was still in the formulative stage. Since trade papers tried to help 
both exhibitors and distributors, they were probably prone to be lenient 
with really bad films, and possibly excessively generous to the good ones. 
But, the reviews as such seem to be honest. There are definite signs of 
the awareness of dramatic and photographic merit, and appropriate if 
mild criticism for the lack of those qualities. "Bought" reviews were un- 
likely; if they existed, they did so far more subtly than their counter- 
parts today. 



A scene from Broncho Billy 
and the Redskin. In costum- 
ing, plot, and characterization, 
the Anderson Westerns matured 

Hollywood makes more Westerns 

As a result of the great success of Anderson's Westerns, there was im- 
mediately an increase in the number of Westerns made from 1909 on, 
and the big vogue of one-reeler classics such as The Merchant of Venice, 
Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet declined. 1909, incidentally, was distin- 
guished not only by the upswing in the production of Westerns in the 
U. S., but also by the increased importing of European films, which also 
included a fair proportion of Westerns. 

Denmark's Great Northern Film Company was particularly adept at 
imitating American melodramas and Westerns. Their Texas Tex was 
about as thoroughly Western a title as it is possible to conceive. 

Selig was among the most prolific of Westerns manufacturers in the 
United States at this time. His In Old Arizona was rated one of his most 
ambitious subjects to date, and was recommended as being of sufficient 
merit for repeat bookings in first-class halls, although it was criticized 
to some extent for its inaccurate military detail. But it was certainly full 
of action, with a big Indian battle in the desert; the cavalry arrived in 
the nick of time in response to a call for help, sent via carrier pigeon by 
the enterprising villain! This was the era of the swarthy Mexican vil- 
lain, and so it was here — although he had a treacherous Indian as his 
henchman. However, the Indian was by no means a stock villain 
in Selig Westerns. In An Indian's Gratitude, the hero was an Indian who 
had been taught the Fifth Commandment. When the villain is captured 
by the Indian tribe, and is about to be hanged, not without some justi- 
fication, the Indian hero intercedes, persuading his brothers to follow 
the white man's moral law. The film prompted a critic of the time to 
remark: "The Selig trademark has come to mean a film of unusual 

Other interesting Selig Westerns of 1909 included Boots and Saddles, 
with the young heroine saving the cavalryman-hero from death at the 

I'l IK I I H \M1 \SIHKM is 

stake; In the Badlands, a bizarre picture in which the villain perished 
freezing to death in the snow; a film however that was criticized for the 
painted backdrops it used, and also for the inaccuracy of its costuming; 
Stampede, praised for its accurate depiction of Western ranch life, Pet of 
the Big Horn Ranch, Custer's Last Stand, On the Border, Pine Ridge Feud, and 
countless others. Despite his obvious reliance on Westerns as his bread 
and butter, Selig could still afford to kid them occasionally. His The 
Tenderfoot was but one of many satires on Westerns made in 1909 by 
several companies, Edison among them, who derived a considerable 
portion of their revenue from Westerns. Pathe's Misadventures of a Sheriff 

seemed amusing, and was probably a forerunner of the hilarious West- 57 

djrn satires that Mack Swain made some years later. By 1909 the 
Western was sufficiently established as a genre for film critics to be 
harsher with it than they were with other types of motion picture. Be- 
cause of the often spontaneous nature of the shooting, there were una- 
voidable anachronisms and inaccuracies in all types of pictures, but the 
critics seemed to single out the Western — and its near relations — for the 
most pointed barbs. One critic was particularly upset because an 
Eskimo baby in A Cry from the Wilderness was seen to be wearing white 
underwear beneath his crude skins. And Edison's The Corporal's Daughter 
had its cavalry gallop out of its frontier fort on to a paved road, with a 
conspicuous sewer. Moving the camera just a foot or two away would 
have avoided such a boner. 

There were other signs that the motion picture was gradually, but 
surely, being taken more and more seriously. Then, as now, there were 
protests from British production groups that their product was being boy- 
cotted in the U. S. There were cries of despair from pressure groups at the 
"garbage masquerading as art" that was being imported from France. 
And already box office polls had been taken to ascertain which areas 
responded most readily to certain types of film. The Midwest, usually 
regarded as an area which liked blood and thunder, strangely enough 
preferred comedy. In Mexico it was found that only thirty-five percent 
of the overall movie audience would turn out for Othello, but one hun- 
dred percent would storm the theatres for murder, bullfights, and other 
strong meat. 

Already there was concern over the Western's possible influence on the 
young, in that it often seemed to glamorize outlawry. Some advertising 
posters for a Western plugging Jesse James (1911) were heavily censured, 
and a writer, displaying his astonishing racism in print, commented that 
"an Indian will walk miles to see bloodshed," and that films and 
advertising which catered to dormant sadism of this type should not be 

encouraged. At almost the same time, an Indian named I. Lee, a resi- 
dent of Rochester, New York, voiced strong criticism in the trade papers 
of the continued depiction of Indians on the screen as bloodthirsty 

There was surprisingly little shape and form to the Western field 
prior to the advent of Griffith and Ince. Companies like Selig, Centaur, 
Edison, Essanay, Vitagraph, Kalem, Biograph, Lubin, Powhatan Films 
(a company that had an enormous Indian head as its trademark), 
Bison, World, Phoenix, Tiger, Carson, and others were all turning out 
Westerns on an almost assembly-line basis. From the point of view of 
co film history, this was a fascinating period. The birth, growth, life, and 

death of these little companies, offer ample material for a whole book 
the western devoted to just these few years. 

From the standpoint of Western film history, few distinguishable 
trends emerge. One that did was the coexistence of two approaches to 
the Indian. The one held the Indian to be a senseless, bloodthirsty 
savage. The other veered to the opposite extreme by depicting the Indian 
with dignity as the original American. Neither of these two approaches 
is surprising or unique in itself; what is notable is that the two contrast- 
ing cycles should coexist, a state of affairs that has never been repeated 
since. If anything, the sympathetic approach to the Indian was the one 
that then dominated. Many of the films with Indian heroes were built 
around legend and near mysticism, and had a fascinating sort of primi- 
tive poetry to them. The Indian's plight was not seen through rose- 
colored glasses; the majority of these films were tragedies, in which the 
Indian deliberately went to his death to avoid dishonor, or committed 
suicide as a gesture of defiance against the unwanted civilization that 
was being brought by the white man. Many of these films were strong 
meat indeed. The Bride ofTabawa was replete with all the neuroses of a 
postwar Jilm-noir. Kalem did an interesting series dealing with the 
Florida Seminole Indians. Vitagraph's Red Wing's Gratitude used authen- 
tic Indians in the principal roles, and titles like The Red Man's View, An 
Indian Wife's Devotion, A True Indian's Heart, tell their own story. 

Films concentrating on the white man's participation in the building 
of the West included an early adaptation of O. Henry's "Cisco Kid" 
stories which, in contrast to later filmed adventures, finished with the 
hanging of the "Kid." Others were On the Warpath, with a traditional 
last-minute cavalry rescue; The Road Agents, an Essanay Western praised 
for its "unusual realism in staging"; The Skeptical Cowboy, a really 
macabre Western from Centaur, in which visions of his dead victim and 
of his own execution drive a killer to pray for forgiveness; The Gold Pros- 

['UK II K Wll Will KM is 

pectors, in which an Indian chief is killed by a little child; Why the Mail 
Was Late, a Lubin Western with more visions, in this case of an angel 
who appears to the dead pony rider; and Davy Crockett in Hearts United. 

In synopsis form, many of the early Westerns we have mentioned in 
passing were truly inventive. Certainly their plots were nothing if not 
imaginative and often courageously stark. But translating the vivid 
written word into an equally vivid film was another matter. Few of the 
early pre-Griffith and Ince Westerns are available to us for reappraisal, 
but of those that are (particularly the films of Bison and Edison) none 
have sufficiently competent direction for the basically good plot material. 

The Broncho Billy Westerns were certainly the liveliest of these, making 59 

up in vigor what they lacked in unusual plot elements. 

It is dangerous to generalize in this 1903-1909 period. But from the 
surviving Westerns, the indication is that they needed both a consistency 
of purpose and directors who understood the Western per se, directors 
who were also aware of the genre's tremendous scope and potential. 
That they did not achieve that consistency, and did not begin to fulfill 
that potential, until the advent of Griffith and Ince, is definitely not to 
say that some excellent Westerns were not made prior to 1910. Un- 
doubtedly many were, and, some talented and advanced directors may 
be unknown to us simply because so little of their material is available 

In a sense, much of the pre- 1910, even pre- 1900 material does exist, 
since negatives have been preserved. But the printing is very expensive 
and one must gamble on items that, from titles and original reviews, seem 
promising. Even then, for every worthwhile discovery, there are three or 
four films of limited quality and interest. More and more of this material 
is being recovered, but it is a race against time because it is highly 
probable that the chemically unstable materials may begin to decompose. 

But if one cannot avoid uncertainty over the status of Westerns which 
immediately followed The Great Train Robbery, then one can, with une- 
quivocal certainty, sustain the view that the Western was guided into 
firmer, more creative, and certainly more influential channels when D. 
W. Griffith and T H. Ince brought their considerable talents to bear in 
the next years. 

David W. 
Thomas H. Ince: 

D. W. Griffith (left) with his cameraman, G. W. Bitzer. 

Griffith and 
1909 - 1913 

The problem is to manipulate 
and shoot unstylized reality in such 
a way that the result has style." 


D. W. Griffith 

The pioneer work of Edwin S. Porter and 
Broncho Billy Anderson having already es- 
tablished standard Western plots and basic 
elements of technique, it remained for David 
W. Griffith and Thomas H. Ince to provide 
the momentum. When they began their 
work in the genre, the Western film was re- 
garded as outdated, and Variety, in fact, in 
its reviews of the Westerns of the 1908-09 
period, frequently concluded jthat the films 
were competently made, but (added: "It has 
all been done so often before, and usually 

So much has been written about Griffith 
as an innovator of film technique and as the 
foremost genius of the American screen, that 
his extremely valuable contribution to the 
early Western in particular is often over- 
looked. And yet, between 1908 and 1913, he 
turned out some of the finest one-reel West- 
erns ever made, quite outstanding in their 
scale, scope and imagination. 

We saw in the previous chapter how 
Kentucky-born Griffith, an actor and a play- 
wright of seemingly competent but unre- 
markable ability, had entered the industry 
as an actor in Edison's Rescued from an Eagle's 
Nest (1907), directed by Porter. Shortly after- 
wards, he joined the Biograph company in 
New York as a writer-actor, subsequently 
directing in 1908 his first film, The Adventures 
of Dollie, an unsubtle but fast-moving melo- 
drama which had immediate success. He 
was greatly encouraged at this time by cam- 
eraman G. W "Billy" Bitzer. 


For a beginning salary of fifty dollars per week, he turned out at least 
eight films for Biograph every month and, during this period, he was 
continually experimenting with new forms of film expression and gram- 
mar, and especially in the possibilities of building tension through edit- 
ing. While some techniques, like the close-up, had been introduced by 
others, they were perfected by Griffith, who in turn created and devel- 
oped other aspects of film narration. 

Chief among these was the cross-cutting technique, developed to add 
tension and maximum excitement to melodramas. Although the basic 
idea of cross-cutting seems elementary today in any kind of dramatic 
go movie construction, its introduction in those days was a daring move. 

Cross-cutting involves the manipulation of time and space. Settlers 
the western fighting off Indians are besieged in a cabin. We see a long shot of the 

Indians circling. A closer shot of the pioneers fighting back. A large close- 
up, perhaps of a child cowering in fright. Then we cut to a troop of 
cavalry perhaps twenty miles away. They have learned of the situation 
and are preparing to rescue the threatened settlers. Back to the fight. 
Ammunition is low. The settlers can't hold out long. Cut to the Indians 
preparing for a final assault. Cut to the cavalry racing across the prairie. 
Depending upon the creative ability of the director and editor, this kind 
of material can be built and expanded indefinitely; mathematical pat- 
terns can be introduced. Long shot can cut to long shot; close-up 
to close-up. As suspense builds, the shots can get shorter and shorter. 
Cross-cutting is taken for granted today, but initially it was not. Because 
it "created" excitement instead of just showing it, it was considered (a) 
dishonest and (b) confusing, just as originally the close-up was regarded 
with suspicion. A close-up? It's not real! Who ever saw a woman's face 
alone, or a pair of feet? So it was with regard to cross-cutting, or indeed 
advanced editing of any kind. Most early Westerns detailed the fight 
admirably, and left it there. The cavalry arrived in the nick of time (with- 
out built-up suspense via cutting), and the matter ended there. 

Griffith loved Westerns for the sweep and spectacle they offered, and 
for the opportunities they provided for a development of his editing 
theories in terms of essentially visual action. He was, of course, busy in 
other fields — melodrama, social criticism, adaptations of literary classics, 
and even semi-propagandistic political melodrama — so that Westerns 
occupied an important, but not dominant part of his schedule. 

His Westerns were filmed both in New Jersey and in California. Until 
1913 in his Biograph period, his studios were located in New York, but 
from October, 1910, he regularly took a troupe to California to escape 
the dreary New York winters so unsuitable for the cameras, and to 

arrange for, in the interest of authenticity, his filming of the bulk of his 
Westerns on the West Coast. Almost all of the Biograph members of 
Griffith's great stock company — Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Owen Moore, 
Mae Marsh, Mary Pickford, Robert Harron, Harry Carey, Lionel 
Barrymore, Charles West, Alfred Paget, Henry B. Walthall, Wilfrid 
Lucas, Dorothy Bernard, Blanche Sweet — went on to subsequent star- 
dom. Some of the directors who learned their trade under him were Erich 
von Stroheim, Raoul Walsh, Chester and Sidney Franklin, Lloyd 
Ingraham, Donald Crisp, Joseph Henabery, Mack Sennett, Dell Hen- 
derson, Elmer Clifton, Christy Cabanne, John Emerson, Lowell Sherman, 

George Siegmann, Jack Conway, and many others; of course, many g3 

other top directors, from John Ford to King Vidor, were considerably 
influenced by Griffith's work. Griffith and ince 

Griffith was more interested in situations, and his treatment of them, 
than in plots per se, and it is significant that the more plot his Western 
film had, the less effective it was. For example, Broken Ways (1912), 
a Biograph two-reeler, concerned a frontier wife with a worthless hus- 
band, with a suitor in the person of an honest sheriff. The film ran 
smoothly, with good exterior scenes and generally fine acting. The plot 
was simple, although the plot details which had to be followed seemed 
to get in Griffith's way. At this particular phase in his career, he was 
more interested in dynamic style, rather than in dramatic plot material. 

More successful was The Wanderer, with Harry Carey in the lead, this 
time in the Chaplinesque role of a vagabond who saves the day for two 
settlers, leaving them to a happy future, unaware that it was he who 
helped them. The villains, incidentally, were not brought to justice; 
Griffith frequently allowed his "heavies" to escape unpunished, and in 
many cases even invested them with likable characteristics which en- 
listed audience sympathy. It was not Griffith's policy to allow crime to 
go unpunished, but when the dramatic needs of his films required de- 
parture from convention, he had no compunction about letting the 
villains off, in complete contrast to the ultra-moral films of Ince, in 
which the guilty always paid a heavy price. 

Despite their short running time and the de-emphasis on plots, no two 
Griffith Westerns were alike; The Goddess of Sagebrush Gulch was as distinct 
from A Temporary Truce as it was from The Squaw's Love, in striking con- 
trast to the assembly-line products of the late Forties and Fifties, when it 
was difficult to tell one Roy Rogers or Charles Starrett Western from 

Three Griffith Westerns are especially noteworthy: The Last Drop of 
Water (1911), Fighting Blood (1911), and The Battle at Elderbush Gulch 



(1913). The Last Drop of Water (1911), was the precursor of The Covered 
Wagon (1923). Both had much the same sense of poetry. The Covered 
Wagon — which we shall discuss in much greater detail in a later chapter — 
disposed of its action as soon as that action had served its purpose, without 
integrating it into the whole. Griffith's film appeared in many ways 
more exciting, because the action was part of a total effect, and that ef- 
fect was accentuated by cross-cutting, providing far more energy and 
excitement than anything in James Cruze's later film. 

The Last Drop of Water is interesting also for the fact that it was one of 
the few Griffith Westerns in which plot and action assumed equal im- 
portance. It was colorful stuff, with heroine Blanche Sweet in love with 
weak-willed Joseph Graybill, whose fondness for liquor had escaped her 
notice. Blanche marries Graybill, while another suitor (Charles West) 
wishes her well, standing gallantly aside. A year later, struggling along 
in a marriage made increasingly difficult, Blanche and Graybill trek 
westward with a wagon train, joined by West who is on hand to protect 
the girl he loves. Water is low when the Indians attack. West, who has 
volunteered to reach the closest waterhole, does not return. Graybill 
slips through the Indian lines into the desert, where he finds West dying. 
At first, he jeers at the sight of his old rival, and then, overcome 
by compassion, offers him the last swallow of precious water from his 
canteen. Exhausted, Graybill dies, but West, revived by the water, is 
able to struggle on, to find water, and to return with a supply to the 
beleaguered wagon train. A detachment of cavalry finally routs the 
Indians in a pitched battle and, leaving the grave of Graybill behind as 
a tribute to the courage of the early pioneers, the wagon train, with Sweet 
and West now united, rolls on towards distant California. A slow, effec- 
tive fadeout with the grave starkly in the foreground, shows the wagon 
train slowly disappearing over the distant horizon. 

Richard Barthelmess (in a role 
originally intended for Rudolph 
Valentino) and Carol Dempster in 
a scene from Scarlet Days, a Grif- 
fith Western of 1919. 


Even better, however, and one of the classics of the pre- 191 3 cinema, 
although strangely unrecognized as such, was Fighting Blood (1911), a 
triumphant application of treatment over subject matter. The plot is 
simple: a grizzled, old Civil War veteran and his family are settled on 
the Dakota frontier during the uneasy interim between the organization 
of the Dakotas as territories and their admission to the Union as states 
in 1889. Father and son quarrel, and the boy leaves. Up in the hills, he 
witnesses a Sioux attack against some pioneers. He warns his sweetheart, 
takes her to his father's cabin, hotly pursued by the Indians. He races 
away for troops, while the settlers come to add strength to the small party 

fighting against overwhelming odds. The battle between the settlers and 55 

the Indians, and the hero's ride for help, occupy two-thirds of the film, 
utilizing an extremely simple, but tremendously exciting — in visual 
terms — formula which John Ford still employs today. Griffith increased 
tension by showing children in danger, cowering in a corner or under a 
bed, threatened with death either from the enemy or even from their 
parents, to prevent their capture by the Indians. Even in the midst of 
the action, Griffith found time to insert strikingly original compositions. 
One long shot showed the long line of cavalry riding across the screen 
in the distance. This scene had barely been established when the riders 
at the head of the column suddenly appeared in close-up on the right 
side of the screen, suggesting an enormous number of riders were pres- 
ent between the long column at the back of the screen and the riders 
now galloping into the foreground. When the cavalry finally entered the 
battlefield surrounding the log cabin where the settlers were putting up 
their defense against the Indians, Griffith gave the rescue dramatic ef- 
fect by shooting the final battle scenes in massive panoramic shots, 
photographed from the tops of overlooking hills. 

Two years after Fighting Blood, he made The Battle at Elderbush Gulch, 
one of his last, and certainly one of his very best two-reel films for Bio- 
graph. It had major similarities with Fighting Blood; the plot was equally 
simple, and merely served as the basis for spectacular scenes. Lillian Gish 
and Mae Marsh played two Eastern girls who came to live in the West 
(their roles here foreshadowed in some ways the roles they were to play 
in The Birth of a Nation). Mae's dog runs away and is caught by Indians 
who plan to eat it. Mae, confronting them, is about to be scalped when 
the settlers rescue her. The Indians then go on the warpath, while 
Robert Harron, in the manner of Fighting Blood, escapes through enemy 
lines to bring the troops. 

Griffith's "child in danger" motif was employed here in two-fold fash- 
ion: a baby, abandoned in the open, is rescued by Mae Marsh, while 

Indians on the rampage in the 
Cherry Valley. Panoramic action 
from Griffith's America (1924). 

children, cowering in a cabin under attack, are threatened with death. 
The film had more character development than Fighting Blood, greater 
and even more creative use of the panoramic shot, and far more 
savagery in the battle scenes, although Griffith was never sadistic, but 
rather always managed to suggest extreme brutality with astounding 

Perhaps the only finesse really lacking from Fighting Blood and The 
Battle at Elderbush Gulch was the running insert, or riding close-up, a device 
he was to develop to perfection with the ride of the Klansmen in The 
Birth of a Nation. 

It has always been a source of some regret that, apart from two good 
program films made between 1916 and 1919 (Scarlet Days, a Griffith 
personal production and The Martyrs of the Alamo, a Griffith supervised 
production), Griffith never made a full-length Western epic. But if he 
turned his back on the Western as such, he never forgot the lessons he 
learned from his early horse operas, and the development he pioneered 
and perfected he used with striking success in other genres. 

In his last big historical epic of the silent era, America (1924), one saw 
familiar scenes: the American colonists besieged in their little fort by 
hordes of redskins, Neil Hamilton racing to the rescue with a band of 


cavalrymen, individual scenes of children huddled in a corner, riders 
soon to be seen in a close-up as the leaders complete an off-screen semi- 
circle to gallop back into the frame. All this can and must be traced back 
to scenes in Fighting Blood. 

Thomas H. Ince 

Thomas H. Ince, like Griffith a former actor, arrived in Hollywood in 
1911, following a year of film-making in New York and Cuba. He was 
employed by the New York Motion Picture Company to concentrate 

primarily on Westerns. He soon became bored with the simply plotted an 

and cheaply budgeted horse operas of the period and finally persuaded 
his bosses to permit him to make a deal with the entire Miller Brothers' 
101 Ranch Wild West Show, an outfit with a huge entourage of cow- 
boys, horses, wagons, buffaloes, and other accessories. With this equip- 
ment, he filmed a two-reel spectacle in 1911 entitled War on the Plains, 
which was praised not only for its accuracy from a historical viewpoint, 
but for its considerable artistry. Moving Picture World of January 27, 1912, 
wrote: ". . . the impression that it all leaves is that here we have looked 
upon a presentation of Western life that is real and that is true to life, 
and that we would like to see it again and again so as to observe more of 
the details." 

Unlike Griffith, who was only just beginning to experiment, Ince with 
War on the Plains, his subsequent Custer's Last Fight, and The Battle of 
Gettysburg was already at the zenith of the purely creative phase of his 
career; in fact, it was the only personally creative phase, since he there- 
after assumed the role of production supervisor, individual directors 
working under him. Apart from W. S. Hart's pictures, none of Ince's 
post- 191 4 pictures had the authenticity and conviction enjoyed by such 
earlier films as War on the Plains. Ince was first and foremost a showman 
and a business man. He knew how to organize, and his greatest contri- 
bution to the history and art of the cinema is represented by the effi- 
cient shooting methods he developed. He placed great stress on the im- 
portance of the detailed shooting script, and his strict supervision of 
scripts, many of which he partially rewrote, injected a measure of "Ince 
influence" into all pictures produced under his organizations. Fore- 
thought in these scripts was astounding, the shooting worked out metic- 
ulously down to the last detail. Reading Ince's revised scenario of 
William Clifford's The Iconoclast, for example, one is amazed at the de- 
tailed information prepared in advance: a dialogue for all characters, a 
full description of the furnishings, the decor, the desired facial expres- 


sions, the tints to be used, a listing of all different sets, together with the 
scene numbers identified with each particular set. These time-saving 
devices are, of course, taken for granted today, but it was Ince who recog- 
nized their value, developing to the full the potential in the script method 
of filming. 

While developing the detailed film script, Ince was also making the 
role of the production supervisor essential, a comparatively rare executive 
position in the early days of motion pictures, a time when most of the 
men with money remained very much on their side of the fence, leaving 
to the director the entire business of making, films. In some ways this 
gg older system benefited the films produced; today, certainly, the financiers 

exert a predominant influence over the creative aspects of the cinema — 
of which they know absolutely nothing. No longer personally directing, 
and apparently not content with being merely a unique combination of 
producer and efficiency expert, Ince nurtured the impression that he 
was a creative craftsman, too. A publicity campaign which he created 
himself was stepped up between 1915 and 1917. In this period, Ince 
joined D. W. Griffith and Mack Sennett in the Triangle Corporation. It 
was his practice to assume director's credit on any film under his over- 
all production if he considered the film important in any way . Thus 
Civilization, a weak anti-war spectacle, although actually directed by 
Raymond West, was released with Ince assuming full directorial title, 
and West getting an "Assisted by . . ." credit. This procedure created 
an aura of greatness around Ince which many European critics and 
historians believed, since they were too far from the scene to ferret out 
the truth. Thus, ironically, some of Ince's fame in France is based on his 
least creative period, often on the basis of inferior films over which he 
had comparatively little to say, anyway. 

The Westerns of Griffith and Ince made in the 1909-1913 period dis- 
play the essential differences between the two men in their approach to 
the same material. Ince was a showman, a routine director, and a 
mediocre editor. He did not know how to build excitement as Griffith 
did. Ince's stories were strong, full of drama and complications; Griffith's 
were really little more than situations. To the casual observer, it might 
seem that Ince's stories had more maturity than did those of Griffith. 
But in his effort to be different, Ince went overboard for the morbid. 

An incredible number of Ince's Westerns (and Civil War stories, too) 
had unnecessarily tragic endings. Past Redemption, for instance, presents 
Ann Little as an outlaw girl who, together with her father, sells whiskey 
to Indians. A new minister spurs a reform movement in town. Prohibi- 
tion is voted, but the outlaws continue their traffic. A detachment of 


cavalry engages them in their hideout and Ann's father is killed. The 
girl escapes after having killed an Indian, first making sure it would 
seem the cavalry was responsible. This provokes an all-out battle in 
which many are slain. The girl then goes to the minister's home seeking 
revenge. She tries to kill him and is caught. Somewhat illogically, she is 
paroled into the minister's custody. Gradually becoming repentant, she 
falls in love with the minister, but when the townspeople see scandal in 
this union, she wanders off alone into the desert to die. 

The tragic ending here, in view of Ann Little's violent past, seems to 
be justified, but this hardly applies to The Woman (1913), dealing with 

a successful opera singer who, in order to save her husband suffering 59 

from tuberculosis, moves to the dry climate of Arizona. She takes part 
in a gigantic land rush in an effort to make a new home for themselves, 
but she is injured falling from her horse during the rush. Recovered, she 
goes to work in a saloon where she is molested by drunken cowhands. 
Driven to desperation by the need for money to help her invalid hus- 
band, she marries a wealthy gambler. Some months later, word reaches 
her that her real husband is dead. That night, when the gambler 
returns home, he finds the woman dead, a suicide note in her hand, 
thanking him for all his kindness and begging his forgiveness for the 
wrong she has done him. 

Plot was given far more prominence than the action, the really spec- 
tacular land-rush footage employed merely as background incident, not 
as the film's highlight. Then, too, its moral values are somewhat ques- 
tionable; not only is the gambler presented idealistically, in comparison 
with the generally drunken reprehensible behavior of the honest cow- 
hands and miners, but bigamy and suicide are quite casually condoned. 

Ince's Civil War films had a similar tendency toward strong meat. One 
of the best was The Drummer of the Eighth, which tells the touching story 
of a boy who runs away from home to join the Northern forces. He is 
captured in battle, learns of plans for a big Southern advance, and 
manages to return to his own lines with the news, although he is seriously 
wounded. Because of his information, the North is able to win a battle. 
Lying in a hospital tent, the youth writes to his mother saying he will 
be home soon. On the day of his return, a big feast is prepared and the 
household joyously awaits him. At the railroad depot, the returning 
soldiers detrain, but the boy's sister cannot find him. Then, two soldiers 
take a simple coffin from the train. The boy is coming home. 

Individually, each of these films was powerful and well made, but 
collectively, they seem to be too much part of a pattern, geared to an 
off-beat plot and a shock effect. However, not all of Ince's Westerns had 



tragic endings, nor were all his tragedies contrived. Some of his short 
Westerns were exciting in the best sense, although they, too, relied more 
on dramatic situations than on physical action. 

One of the best of his "tragedies" was a very moving and beautifully 
photographed two-reeler, The Heart of an Indian, a rather strange film 
which presented both white man and Indian in a basically sympathetic 
light. It opened with scenes of everyday life in an Indian village, presided 
over by J. Barney Sherry, playing the chief, with the Indian actor, 
William Eagleshirt, as his second in command. The chief's daughter is 
mourning the death of her child. The film cuts then to the life of the 
pioneers, tilling the soil, hunting buffalo. Both races are established as 
equals in the wresting of a livelihood from the land, and in their rights 
to such livelihood. 

Then, an Indian raid is precipitated when a white shoots "Indian" 
buffalo; from one blazing cabin, the Indian chief rescues a baby girl to 
give to his daughter for adoption. The real mother, distraught, staggers 
into the Indian camp, and tries to claim her baby. The Indian girl 
taunts her, but then, allowing mother and child a temporary embrace, 
she relents, and in a touching little scene, realizes the universality 
of motherhood, and, indirectly, of all men. She restores the child to its 
real mother, escorting them both to safety. But the white men of the 
settlement, bent on revenge, have taken to the trail and even the sight 
of the mother and child, both quite safe, does not lessen their hatred. 
They creep up on the Indian camp and cold-bloodedly massacre its in- 
habitants. The final scene of the film is an exquisite silhouette, at dusk 
on the crest of a hill, of the now doubly bereaved Indian girl "commun- 

Thomas H. Ince with his first 
Indian star, William Eagleshirt. 

ing with the spirit of her dead child," as she prays for the tiny body 
wrapped in blankets and placed atop a flimsy wooden framework. 

A recurring theme in Ince's frontier dramas is the symbolic struggle be- 
tween good and evil made simple by having the heroes allied with the 
church, and the villains with the saloon. In some cases the entire moti- 
vation was based on the church's determination to stamp out drinking, 
and the villains' equally strong determination that it should continue. 
The implication is inevitably that good can survive only when the 
temptation to evil (namely, the saloon) is obliterated — not indicative of 
very pronounced moral stamina on the part of Ince's Christian pioneers. 

However, another recurring theme in Ince's pictures made it difficult 

to determine just where he stood regarding the church, since one of his 
favorite characters seemed to be the weak-willed minister seduced by a 
saloon girl, or the devil-may-care cowboy who stood, to be sure, for law 
and order, but who was usually given a scene in which he ridiculed either 
the minister or the church, a sort of "Last Stand" to show that he owed 
no more allegiance to God than anyone else! 

If the Westerns of Griffith and Ince had anything at all in common, 
it was the complete realism of their background, due, of course, to the 
locations they used, for the California foothills of then-young Hollywood 
were a living part of the old West, untouched by man or commerce in 
72 any way. Ince built his studio, "Inceville," and his Western streets and 

ranches in an area at the mouth of the Santa Ynez canyon, having in 
the western f ront f him the Pacific Ocean and miles of sandy beaches. Behind him 

were miles of picturesque virgin wilderness. Its value as a Western back- 
drop has been lost today, since it takes only one hotel or mansion to turn 
a Western mountain into a Hollywood hill overlooking the Pacific. Ince's 
old stamping ground is still a beautiful area, but Hollywood homes have 
transformed it radically. 

One other element in the realism of Griffith-Ince Westerns was the 
dust. A minor thing, perhaps, but a telling one. Dust was everywhere 
in the old West— behind men as they walked down streets, behind horses 
and coaches, in the air itself, wherever the wind blew. The constant visual 
presence of dust, whether in clouds kicked up, or in layers on the clothes 
men wore, was a perpetual reminder of the rugged and uncomfortable 
conditions under which the West was built and won, almost a symbol 
in itself of a land to be tamed. Because it was there, Griffith and Ince 
ignored the dust and let it play its own role in their films. Later, West- 
ern movie makers learned the neat trick of wetting down the ground 
before the day's shooting, so that the soil was moist and able to absorb 
the surface dust. Westerns soon became less dusty — and less convincing. 

By 1912, despite ever-stronger plots from Ince, and the increasing 
technical virtuosity of Griffith, Westerns were losing ground again at the 
box office. The criticism of tired uniformity that had been flung at them 
five years earlier, and which was to be reiterated at regular intervals, 
became particularly sharp. Griffith and Ince then cut down on their 
Western output, increasing the number of Civil War films they brought 
to the screen. By that time, however, these two men had already made 
their major contributions, each in his own way, to the Western film. Ford, 
Cruze, and several others were now to take over and to enlarge upon 
these beginnings. But, with the sole exception of William S. Hart, no 
others were to contribute more to the Western film than had David W. 
Griffith and Thomas H. Ince. 

"The truth of the West meant 

more to me than a job, 

and always will." 
w. s. hart, My Life East and West 

William Surrey Hart 

My Life East and West 

The man who, single-handed, rescued the 
Western film from the rut of mediocrity into 
which it had fallen was William S. Hart, in 
a career that spanned slightly more than ten 
years. As an actor, director, and to a lesser 
degree as a writer, he brought to the West- 
ern both realism and a rugged poetry. His 
o Tlfj "Pf*^ llSTTn films, the motion picture equivalents of the 

paintings of Frederic Remington and the 
drawings of Charles M. Russell, represent 
the very heart and core of that which is so 
casually referred to as Hollywood's "West- 
ern tradition." 

Although the third important Western 
star, arriving on the film scene after Broncho 
Billy Anderson and Tom Mix, and retiring 
while Mix was still in his prime, his contri- 
butions to Westerns were original, and their 
influence was of greater importance than 
those of Anderson and Mix. 

William S. Hart was born December 6, 
1870, in Newburgh, New York. The "S" 
stood, not as is often erroneously stated, for 
Shakespeare, but for Surrey. His family, the 
father being a traveling miller, led a nomadic 
existence, wandering across the country in 
search of water for power, eventually settling 
near a Sioux reservation in the Dakotas. As 
a youngster, William played with Sioux of 
his age, learning their language and customs, 
and a respect for them that he never lost. 

His experiences in the West were rich and 
varied. He worked as a trail-herd cowboy in 
Kansas, and once he was caught in the 
crossfire of a sheriff and two gunmen on 


Sioux City's main street. The death of William's baby brother during 
the family's Dakota residence is movingly described in Hart's book, My 
Life East and West. The baby was buried near the headwaters of the 
Mississippi by the father, William, and a younger sister; the descriptive 
passage of that harsh reality, and the unbearable grief of those days is 
one of the most poignant passages in the book. 

His mother's illness took the family back East when William was still 

only fifteen. He held an assortment of odd jobs, including singing in the 

Trinity Church choir, to round out the family's income. Participating in 

athletics, at nineteen he accompanied the famous track star, Lon Myers, 

yg to London, and set a record for the three-and-a-half mile walk. 

His two ambitions in this period were to become an actor and to go 
the western to West Point. The latter was impossible, due to an inadequate academic 

background. Later in his career, he noted: "The stage idea just came, 
and always remained, and will be with me when the final curtain 
is rung down." He had the good fortune to befriend F. F. Markey, one 
of the most accomplished actors and an excellent teacher of the art. 
Daniel E. Bandemann, a prominent actor-manager, provided him with 
his first role on the professional stage, in Romeo and Juliet, which coinci- 
dentally opened in his native Newburgh. For the next twenty years, 
Hart's stature as an actor rose. He had a fine speaking voice, even as 
late as 1939, when he spoke the prologue for the reissue of his silent film, 
Tumble weeds. 

The role of Messala in the original company of Ben Hur (1899) brought 
him his first real critical acclaim, but after a number of successful seasons 
with the show, his career went into a decline. During this period he lived 
in the Hotel Harrington, on Broadway and Forty-fourth Street in New 
York City, and shared his room with another struggling young actor, 
Thomas H. Ince. Then, things took a turn for the better, with his sudden 
introduction to Western roles and, as Cash Hawkins in The Squaw Man, 
he had instantaneous success, followed by the starring role in the road 
company of The Virginian. 

His success in these plays, and an event which took place in Cleveland, 
while he was on tour there, determined him on a course that was to suc- 
ceed far beyond his wildest expectations. In Cleveland, Hart saw his 
first Western film and, knowing the West well and loving it, he was de- 
pressed by the picture's gross inaccuracies. "I was an actor, and I knew 
the West," he wrote later. "The opportunity that I had been waiting for 
years to come was knocking at my door . . . rise or fall, sink or swim, I 
had to bend every endeavour to get a chance to make Western pictures." 
For the remainder of the season, he saw as many Westerns as he could, 

William S. Hart in The Primal Lure (1916). 

studying and committing them to memory. Later, upon reaching Cali- 
fornia, on tour with The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, he learned that his 
old friend, Tom Ince, was in charge of the New York Motion Picture 
Company studios. When he told Ince he wanted Western parts, Ince 
was apathetic, pointing out that every film company was making them, 
and that even the best films were having a difficult time. He agreed, 
however, to give Hart a chance, and as soon as he finished his theater 
tour, Hart returned to California. It was now the summer of 1914. 

Ince's studios were located at the mouth of the Santa Ynez canyon, 
and consisted of several open-air stages, sets of Western towns, a ranch, 
a fishing village, and similar buildings. The films were released through 
Mutual, headed by Roy and Harry Aitken, and John Freuler. The 
Aitkens were the first financiers to interest New York bankers in motion 
picture investments; using Reliance as their key production company, 
they sold stock to influential buyers, and helped finance the New York 
Motion Picture Company, with studios in Hollywood. Ince had been in 
charge since September, 1912, of the eighteen-thousand-acre location 
called "Inceville," while Mack Sennett was located in studios at 1700 
Alessandro Street. In late 1913, David W. Griffith joined the outfit. 

Profits were considerable for the expanding New York Motion Picture 
Company; two films were turned out every day, and Griffith, Ince and 
Sennett — representing the three top film makers and money makers — 
were installed, if not in the same studio, at least under the collec- 
tive roof of one busy concern. 


It was to this optimistic, energetic, and expanding organization that 
William S. Hart came. His first two film appearances were in two-reelers 
that starred, and were directed by, Tom Chatterton. Hart was the villain 
in both, but he felt very much disappointed and expressed his thoughts 
to Ince, who then put him into two feature films. The first was The 
Bargain, a five-reel Western written by Hart himself in collaboration with 
C. Gardner Sullivan, a fine screen writer and later a top production 
executive. Reginald Barker directed Hart in this seven-reel Western; no 
sooner was the shooting completed on August 6, 1914, than Ince rushed 
Hart into another Western, On the Night Stage (later known also as The 
70 Bandit and the Preacher). Again directed by Barker, written by Sullivan, 

and photographed by Robert S. Newhard, it was strong, powerful stuff, 
the sort of material that could be considered a blueprint for the Hart 
films still to come. As "Texas" the badman, he opposed "the sky pilot" 
(Robert Edeson), until reformed by heroine Rhea Mitchell. 

Hart was pleased with these works, but it seemed unlikely that they 
would create much of a stir. With four Westerns under his belt, he as- 
sumed demand for his services was over, and parted company with Ince, 
returning to New York. 

Then something unexpected took place. The Bargain proved to be such 
a hit that it was decided not to release it through Mutual, where its full 
potential might not be realized; Famous Players were very much im- 
pressed, and bought the film for distribution. Ince, recognizing now that 
he had a star in Hart, decided not to release On the Might Stage either, 
but to hold it until Famous Players, with The Bargain, had made Hart's 
name known nation-wide. 

Ince sent for Hart immediately and offered him a contract as a 
director-actor at $125 a week. Unaware of what was going on behind the 
scenes, or of the anticipated success of his two unreleased pictures, Hart 
accepted with alacrity. His salary was actually extremely low compared 
with the fees paid others working for Ince — usually only in one capacity 
— and had Hart known this, he could have secured a much better ar- 
rangement. This was the first of a series of events which strained the re- 
lationship between Hart and Ince. 

From the very beginning, Hart directed all his own films, and only 
very occasionally did another director — Cliff Smith or Charles Swickard 
— work on his pictures. Even then, the director credit was largely 
nominal, for Hart's films were made the way he wanted them to be made. 
Although there was no secret made at the time of the fact that Hart was 
directing as well as acting, the fact seems to have become obscured over 
the years. Ince's high-pressure publicity created the impression that he 

was the creative mind behind the Hart films, but the facts are quite to 
the contrary. Not only did Ince never direct Hart in a single foot 
of film, but after the first few productions he had little to do even with 
their supervision, despite the large screen credit he took on each film. Ince 
does rate some credit though for having recognized in Hart the potential 
artist he was, for having allowed Hart to make his own films without 
interference. And Hart acquired a great deal of basic technique from a 
study of the earlier Ince films. Thus, in the face of Hart's rapidly 
spiraling success, and revenues, Ince's attitude was as shrewd at it was 

Hart's first film as a director-star was The Passing of Two Gun Hicks; 79 

still learning the trade as a director, he limited himself to two-reelers, 

but from the very start he revealed himself as a man who thoroughly HART AND ' 

understood the film medium, despite years of a stage background. The 
Scourge of the Desert followed, and then Mr. "Silent" Haskins. Stressing 
physical action predominantly, the former was an interesting little film 
in which a Western gambler appoints himself protector of the helpless 
heroine, newly arrived from the East, finally marrying her. There was 
some particularly fine camera work of bawdy saloon life, and some good 
individual compositions. One shot became something of a Hart trade- 
mark: a slow pan from the villain's face, in full close-up, across to Hart's 
grim and defiant face, also in close-up. In this instance, the pan continued 
past Hart's face to take in a rifle hanging on the wall, panning down to 
the anxious face of the heroine, desperately afraid, but trusting in Hart 
to protect her. The symbolism of the scene was obvious, simple, and 
doubly effective because of it. 

The Sheriff's Streak of Yellow, which followed, was a film in the High 
Noon mold, but without any kind of feminine interest or any sentimen- 
tality. Hart made this fine two-reeler for only $1,122.36, including his 
own salary. That he knew his way now was seen in The Taking of Luke 
McVane (also, The Fugitive). Enid Markey was his leading lady, and 
Cliff Smith co-directed while also playing a featured part. This film 
marked the real beginning of Hart's sentimentality, and it was also one 
of his few films which ended unhappily. For some reason the erroneous 
impression was created over the years that Hart's films were usually 
semi-tragedies, that he either died at the end, or rode away into 
the desert, leaving behind the girl he loved. Quite the opposite is true. 
Despite a life of outlawry, Hart's hero usually came to a happy, not a 
"sticky" end. In The Taking of Luke McVane Hart played a gambler who 
falls in love with a saloon dancer after protecting her from the unwanted 
advances of drunken Mexicans. In gratitude, she presents him with a 

rose. Forced to shoot a man in self-defense in a card-game brawl, Hart 
flees, pursued by the sheriff. They shoot it out in the desert, and Hart 
wounds the sheriff. Genuinely remorseful of his life of crime, he cares 
for the sheriff in his cabin. Then, knowing that it means the end of his 
own freedom, he decides to take the sheriff back to town for medical care. 
But on the ride back across the desert, the two men are attacked by 
Indians. A fierce battle ensues. The next morning, the sheriff's posse finds 
both men dead — Hart smiling, with the dancer's rose in his hand. 

The sentimental streak in Hart's films was manifested in many 
different ways: the reformation of the badman by the love of the 
heroine, or the admiration of a child (used in the mid-Forties by Wal- 
lace Beery in Bad Bascomb); the cowboy's love for his horse; and, in many 
cases, a cowboy's devoted affection for his sister. (This last bit of senti- 
mentality was pure Hart. He was deeply attached to his sister, Mary, 
and quite obviously, in giving his movie character a sister to be 
cherished and protected, he was reflecting his own feelings on the screen.) 

On May 31, 1915, Hart's first feature as a director was released: The 
Darkening Trail. In The Ruse, his next, he played "Bat" Peters, with much 
of the action taking place in the city. Hart has been lured there by the 
villians; suspecting that the heroine was unfaithful to him, he settles 
things in a mighty hand-to-hand battle with the villain. Then, assured of 
the heroine's affections, he takes her back west. Hart was very fond of 
the plot of the Westerner coming east, overcoming the smooth chicanery 
of city crooks by using common sense and Western brawn, and then re- 
turning home. The subtitle, "I'm goin' back to the country where 
I belong" was repeated verbatim, or with little variation, in all the Hart 
films with plots on this order. 

Next came two more two-reelers, Cash Parrish's Pal and The Conversion 
of Frosty Blake. When Triangle took over the New York Motion Picture 
Company, The Conversion of Frosty Blake was re-edited and made into a 
five-reeler. Hart did not appear until the third reel in the new version, 
and Gilbert Hamilton, incredibly, received credit as the director. To 
further add to the confusion, the new five-reeler was re-edited once 
more to two reels, with a fresh title, The Gentleman from Blue Gulch. 
Thus this one film circulated in several different versions, with several 
different titles! Almost all of Hart's films were later reissued in this 

With these strong, little Westerns, Hart reached tremendous heights 
of popularity. Having made twenty Westerns, he had only a few more 
two-reelers to make before he switched to features permanently. 

The last of Hart's two-reelers were Grit and Keno Bates, Liar. The 

latter, written by Ince and J. G. 
Hawks, and photographed by 
Joseph August, was another fine 
Western, although a further demon- 
stration of Hart's growing tendency 
to sentimentalize. Its story was very 
similar to that of The Taking of Luke 
McVane, complete even to the flower 
motif. However, the climax of Keno 
Bates, Liar sees the heroine emptying 
a gun into the reformed gambler, 
unaware that he is the man who 
saved her. Logic would dictate that 
the hero will now die — and there 
are indications that possibly such an 
ending wasforiginally planned. But 
the closing scenes find the gambler 
miraculously recovered, reunited 
with the girl who now realizes his 
true worth. 

A new phase in Hart's career soon 
began, for there had been dissension 



William S. Hart in The Tiger Man (1918). 


at Mutual for some time. Harry Aitken had invested considerable 
amounts of Mutual's money into the financing of D. W. Griffith's The 
Birth of a Nation, and the Freuler group had disagreed. The American 
Film Company, also involved, was annoyed because Aitken considered 
certain of their pictures to be inferior, refusing to sell them as "Mutual 
Masterpieces." The crisis exploded with the removal of Aitken as presi- 
dent of Mutual, by Freuler. 

Following meetings with the financiers in New York, Harry Aitken 
called Griffith, Ince, and Sennett to a conference in La Junta, Colorado, 
where plans for a new company were formulated. Thus, Triangle Pic- 
g2 tures was born, represented by Griffith, Ince, and Sennett, with Aitken 

as president. Triangle was ambitious, and in order to finance their better- 
quality pictures, they needed increased revenue. This was to be partially 
achieved by the opening of Triangle's own theaters in key cities, with 
an advance over prices from the then prevailing fifteen cents to twenty- 
five cents. 

In New York, the Knickerbocker Theatre was leased and refurbished, 
with a special carriage entrance to cater to the elite. The plan was to 
present four Triangle films each week, one each from Griffith and Ince, 
and two from Sennett. The theater opened on September 23, 1915, 
with prices ranging as high as two and three dollars for loge seats. 
It was a gala opening, with showmen Samuel Rothapfel (Roxy) in 
charge of the whole affair, and Hugo Riesenfeld directing the orchestra: 
Paderewski, William Randolph Hearst, James Montgomery Flagg, 
Rupert Hughes, and many other notables were there to witness the first 
program, which consisted of The Lamb (Griffith) with Douglas Fairbanks 
and Seena Owen, The Iron Strain (Ince) with Enid Markey and Dustin 
Farnum, and My Valet (Sennett) with Mabel Normand. 

Hart's The Disciple was the second Triangle feature to play the theater, 
and the film was his most elaborate vehicle to date. A five-reeler, it cost 
eight thousand dollars. Dorothy Dalton, the leading lady, was paid 
forty dollars per week, and assistant director Cliff Smith got thirty dollars. 
Seventy-five dollars was paid for the story; Robert McKim, the villain, 
received twenty-five dollars per week, and extras earned five dollars a 
week and board. Their foreman received ten dollars. Hart, as star and 
director, was still earning only one hundred and twenty-five dollars a 

Hell's Hinges 

Considering the number of films Hart made, and the regularity with 
which he turned them out, he sustained a remarkably high standard on 


his Triangle releases. None of them had the assembly-line stamp, all 

were competent, and some were outstanding. Hell's Hinges (1916) was 

not only one of his very best subjects, but remains one of the classic 

Westerns. Sullivan, Smith, and August were again associated with Hart; 

Louise Glaum was the vamp, Clara Williams the heroine, Alfred Hol- 

lingsworth the villain, Jack Standing a weak-willed minister, and Robert 

Kortman one of the villain's henchmen. Hell's Hinges was also John 

Gilbert's first film — he featured prominently in crowd scenes — and Jean 

Hersholt, too, could be seen in several crowd scenes. The story of Hell's 

Hinges is an example of C. Gardner Sullivan's really strong screenplays. 

In later years, Hell's Hinges would have been classified as a "psychologi- 03 

cal" Western; in 1916, all the red meat was there, free of any murky 

undertones. The film gets under way in the East, where the recently 

ordained Reverend Robert Henley is preaching a sermon in a slum 

mission. The initial subtitles in themselves set the stage so neatly that 

we can do no better than repeat them verbatim: 

(To introduce the minister): the victim of a great mistake, a 


Then: his mother: radiantly happy in the realization of her 
life's dream, and blissfully unconscious of the injustice she has 
done her son and the church. 

Back to the minister again: untouched by the holy word he is 


The minister's superiors sense that he is too weak to combat the temp- 
tations of city life. They present him with a solution: an opportunity to 
take charge of the establishment of a church in the West. With a 
superimposed flash-forward, Henley's imagination sees his new parish as 
a glamorous one filled with romantic senoritas in need of his spiritual 
guidance. Excited at the prospect, he agrees, and his sister Faith decides 
to accompany him. Three weeks later, their stagecoach approached 
Hell's Hinges. Then, some fast-moving scenes, and some vividly written 
subtitles, each in the atmosphere of the town itself. First the subtitle: 


HeWs Hinges 

Just plain Hell's Hinges, and a good place to "ride wide of." 

Silk Miller: mingling the oily craftiness of a Mexican with the 
deadly treachery of a rattler, no man's open enemy, and no 
man's friend. 

The pitifully uneven struggle, when the face of God seemed turned Not until the place is an inferno of flames does he relax and allows 
away. his captives to make their escape. 

Systematically she breaks him down, and ultimately seduces him on 
the evening of the opening of the new church. 

Besides himself with rage, Tracey manhandles Dolly and throws her 
to the floor. 

Hell's Crown. 

Blaze Tracey finds Faith, and the body of her brother. 



Quick, dramatic shots of crowds watching a vicious gun duel in the 
dusty main street are followed by a further subtitle: 


The villain (Alfred Hollingsworth) is introduced with the subtitle: 

NO man's FRIEND. 

One of Miller's henchmen tells him that the minister sent for by the 
"petticoat brigade" is due at any moment. "The petticoat brigade," of 
course, is the town's decent element — referred to by a subtitle as: 


Miller has engaged Blaze Tracey (Hart) to run the minister out 
of town — or worse. Hart's introductory subtitle is typical: 


in the creed shoot first and do your disputin' afterwards. 

But when the stage arrives, Tracey pushes his way through the mock- 
ing crowd to send the minister on his way; he is stopped short by the 
sight of the girl. As she smiles at him, a subtitle relates: 


Hart stops, unable to carry through the course of action he had 
planned, while a follow-up subtitle explains: 


Hart's sudden changes of heart when confronted with the heroine for 
the first time gave full reign to his sentimental streak, and were always 


played in the same way, with a maximum of close-up work on Hart's 
face, suffering pangs of remorse and self-doubt. Individually, they were 
often tremendously effective, but collectively their effect is weakened, 
because they constitute the only real cliche in all the Hart films. In Hell's 
Hinges, the sequence is not even particularly legitimate, for audiences 
knew the Hart character too well to believe him to be evil, while the 
heroine (Clara Williams) was so excessively homely and unattractive 
that it is difficult to believe that she could have instilled such feelings in 
any man, and certainly not on first acquaintance. 

Moved, confused, Tracey leaves the minister and his sister to the 
ribald mocking of the mob, and takes no stand either for or against them. 87 

The next Sunday, Henley and his sister hold their first service. In the 
saloon, Dolly (Louise Glaum), Miller's mistress, and the town's lawless 
element decide to stop religion in Hell's Hinges before it gets started. In 
a group, they invade the barn, upset the service, and by carousing, 
shooting, and cursing, attempt to terrify the worshippers into retreating. 

Determined to enjoy the fun, Tracey heads for the barn himself. In- 
side, the weak minister has given up in despair; but Faith has taken a 
stand, and is singing a hymn, oblivious to the drunken cowboys, hoping 
to shame them into silence. A close-up of Tracey dissolves into a close- 
up of Faith, which in turn dissolves into a shot of a crucifix rising out of 
the water along a seashore. Then, a subtitle: 


Tracey bursts into the barn just as one of the drunken cowboys 
attempts to dance with Faith. Knocking him to the ground, Tracey 
draws both guns and, crouched low behind them (a typical Hart pose) 
defies the mob, telling them: 


As the turmoil subsides, Tracey sits down to hear the finish of the 
minister's sermon. But he is unmoved, sensing the insincerity of this man 
of God. Faith, however, speaks so fervently that Tracey is completely 
convinced. The subtitle in which he tells her of his conversion reads: 



Tracey openly switches his allegiance to the cause of the church, at 
the same time developing a strong romantic interest in Faith. At this 
point, Hart injects an interesting note of realism when Tracey reads the 
Bible for the first time; he is moved and impressed by what he reads, 
but the old ways are by no means behind him! He smokes as he reads, 
and a bottle of whiskey stands on the table next to the Bible. 

Realizing that he has failed to scare the minister out of town, Silk 
Miller tries other tactics. Playing on Henley's weak will, he sends Dolly 
to him. Systematically she breaks him down, and ultimately seduces 
him on the evening of the opening of the new church. The next morning, 
gg Miller's followers ridicule the churchgoers as they vainly wait for their 

minister to join them, shouting that he is down in Silk's saloon. Tracey 
leads the way into the saloon, and finds both Dolly and Henley, dead 
drunk, lying together on Dolly's bed. Beside himself with rage, Tracey 
manhandles Dolly and throws her to the floor; Miller is jubilant: 



But Tracey 's new-found faith is unshakable: 


Tracey takes the disgraced minister home, leaving Hell's Hinges still 
in the hands of Silk Miller. 

Three reels have been devoted to this development. There has been 
little physical action in the accustomed Western sense, but the suspense 
has been building up steadily to an inevitable explosion. Dramatically, 
the film has presented an unusual and effective juxtaposition: Tracey's 
conversion running parallel with the moral decay of the minister. Hav- 
ing set his stage, Hart is now ready for his cataclysmic finale, in which 
evil and decadence are wiped away, only the good to survive. 

The next morning, Tracey rides to the nearest town to find a doctor 
for the drunken and delirious minister who, in the meantime, fights his 
way out of his sister's care to join the cowhands in Miller's saloon, with 
the decent citizens looking on sorrowfully. Suddenly, one of the cow- 
hands shouts: 


The minister gleefully agrees to be the first to put the torch to 

his church, while outside "the petticoat brigade" waits with grim 


Then, in superbly organized and directed mob scenes, the saloon gang 
marches on the church. There is a short, vicious battle outside, but the 
church's defenders are too few. They are routed and the church set 
aflame, but the minister is shot and killed in the battle. As the townsmen 
retreat, a subtitle notes: 




In great, high-angle panoramic shots, the burning church, standing 
far apart from the rest of the town, the retreating townspeople, and the 
drunken roistering of their persecutors, are vividly and dramatically 
filmed. On a full close-up of the burning church, a subtitle is injected: 


Then the shot is completed — a slow pan up the burning church and 
steeple, to the flaming cross silhouetted against the sky. 

In stark, dramatic shots, the townspeople flee into the" desert. The 
tempo increases. A shot of Tracey, riding back to town, is intercut with 
shots of the refugees, and scenes of the wild celebrations in town. He 
meets the first of the fleeing townspeople, hears their story, leaps into 
the saddle, gallops hell-for-leather into the town, falls down a steep in- 
cline, remounts, and is off again. By the side of the still-burning but now 
nearly collapsed church (all of the fire scenes were printed on red stock, 
to tremendously dramatic effect), Blaze Tracey finds Faith, and the 
body of her brother. 

Convulsed with rage, he decides to clean up Hell's Hinges once and 
for all, and strides into town. Miller's men line up inside the saloon, 
determined to shoot Tracey down the moment he appears. But Tracey 
outsmarts them, kicks open the swinging doors, shoots Miller before he 
can make a move, and holds the rest at bay, allowing only the terrified 
saloon girls to escape. 

Tracey tells the cowering men: 



He begins to shoot down the oil lamps; within a matter of moments 
the wooden saloon is afire. Not until the place is an inferno of flames does 
he relax and allows his captives to make their escape. Soon all of Hell's 
Hinges is flame and, like the Sodom of old, it is completely obliterated. 
On the subtitle: 

hell's crown. 

And its subsequent shot of the raging inferno at its peak, the scene fades 
out, and into another subtitle: 



Faith is prostrate with grief; Tracey attempts to lead her away from 
her brother's grave, but she throws herself upon it. He returns to the 
now more composed girl, and together they walk to the mountains: 


Hell's Hinges was, understandably, a tremendous success, but already 
there were signs that the rigidity of Hart's screen character was being 
noticed by the critics. After praising the film, and referring to "the 
genius of direction," the Moving Picture World of February 19, 1916, goes 
on to criticize Hart: 

Good enough actor not to require a perpetual repetition of the Western badman 
reformed through the sweet and humanizing influence of a pure-minded girl, Hart 
should try himself out in some other role . . . [he] fails to win with a large percentage 
of the modern audience. Hart is a fine type, and capable of picturing imperfect 
man as he really is, and long has been, a composite being, 'the riddle of the world.' 

Hart, of course, took no notice of the Easterners who were trying to 
tell him how to make his Westerns. Ten years later, those same criticisms 
leveled at Tumbleweeds on which he had again refused to compromise, 
finally put him out of business. But what a grand old actor and film- 
maker he had been — with 12 years of the most personal and vigorous 
films any one man ever made, to his credit! 


To regard Hell's Hinges as merely a Western is a mistake, for it more 
resembles The Atonement of Gosta Berling than it does Riders of the Purple 
Sage. It was one of Hart's best films, and in its way a prototype, but at 
the same time it had excesses that were not quite so evident in his later 
films. The religious angle was never again so pronounced; Hart fre- 
quently cast himself as a near-evangelistic Westerner, but his motives 
arose more from codes of honor and behavior than from religious roots. 
And the subtitles of Hell's Hinges, wonderful examples of the colorful 
language of the silent screen, a language that understandably seems un- 
duly flowery to those with only a casual knowledge of the silent film, 

were unusually flamboyant for Hart, who frequently let himself go in 9J 

injecting Western vernacular into dialogue subtitles, but who was not 
normally prone to lengthy and poetic descriptive titles. 

Hart has many times been accused of being too sentimental a director, 
and at times he undoubtedly was, but it is astounding that his tremendous 
talent as a director has gone unrecognized for so long. He is regarded as 
a "personality," along with Fairbanks, Valentino, and Pickford, and 
almost never as a creative craftsman in his own right. Hell's Hinges is 
living proof of what an accomplished director he was. The camera 
placement, the simple yet effective symbolism, and the flair for spectacle, 
plus the real "feel" for the dusty, unglamorized West, should have earned 
Hart a reputation as one of the great directors. The staging of the burn- 
ing of the town is beautifully done, the sheer spectacle never eclipsing 
the odd moment of individual action, such as when Hart, holstering his 
guns, walks out of the inferno, apparently oblivious to it all, a sudden 
burst of flame creating a halo-like effect behind his head seeming almost 
to identify him as an agent of divine vengeance. And giving Hart credit 
for the magnificent staging of this sequence in no way detracts from the 
credit due to cameraman Joseph August, who achieved some superb ef- 
fects of maddened cowboys racing through the flames, almost like vague 
demons tortured in some primitive hell. 

It should not be forgotten that Hell's Hinges was a 1916 production. 
Griffith was the giant among directors then, with no immediate rivals; 
DeMille, in any case only a commercial and not an aesthetic rival, was 
just beginning; Herbert Brenon, Chester and Sidney Franklin, Maurice 
Tourneur, and a handful of others were of more importance but certainly 
Hart's ability, if more restricted, was quite comparable to theirs. Un- 
doubtedly, Hart's enormous popularity as an actor (his films had to 
stand up to competition from Doug Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and 
Charlie Chaplin) tended to make people overlook his directorial ability. 


Hart's peak and decline 

Another classic followed soon after, a film that Hart himself regarded as 
the best he had ever made — The Aryan. One of its major assets was the 
lovely and sensitive performance of Bessie Love, who had been recom- 
mended to Hart by Griffith. She was particularly suited to Hart's re- 
quirements in heroines, and it is surprising that he did not use her to a 
much greater extent. Triangle's original synopsis for The Aryan — described 
as "The Story of a White Human Heart Turned Black" — bears repeat- 
ing in its original vernacular: 

92 The hard cruel face of a man who has learned to hate, looks into the trusting 

countenance of a girl whose whole life has known nothing but love and trust. The 
man has sworn vengeance on the whole white race, and especially its women, be- 
cause of a vile deed that one woman had done — a deed that has left its black im- 
press on his very soul. The trust of the child, her confidence that he will help her 
and the other white people who have besought him for food and shelter, at first 
makes no appeal to the man who hates. She shall be one more victim of his 
vengeance, her companions shall suffer with her. He glowers at her, and sneers at 
her pleas. 

Still the great dark eyes follow him about, with no indication of fear or doubt. 
He has told her that he will show no mercy to her or to the white women of her 
party. Very well — she will not believe him. He is a white man, she can see that, 
although he lives among half-breeds and Indians, and she knows he will run true 
to the creed of his race — to protect its women. 

He does. He bursts the shackles of hatred and revenge which have held his spirit 
in bondage, and justifies the girl's absolute confidence in him. 

The Aryan took exactly one month to shoot, during which time 15,485 
feet of negative were used, of which less than 5,000 feet of film were used 
for release. Hart was improving as a director with each film, and put- 
ting more time, effort, and money into them. The Aryan cost $13,531.67, 
with Hart earning $1,125.00 for the month's work. But in proportion to 
the money his films were earning for Ince, Hart's own salary increases 
were ridiculously small; tension and ill will were gradually increasing 
between the two men, and Hart's suspicions that Ince was unfairly ex- 
ploiting him was one of the contributing factors. 

In late 1917, Hart left Triangle, after having made several films: 
Truthful Tulliver, The Gun Fighter, The Square Deal Man, The Desert Man 
(his first association with Lambert Hillyer, who wrote the screenplay, 
and who later directed 25 of the 27 Hart pictures for Paramount), Wolf 
Lowry, and The Cold Deck. 

Triangle was in sore financial difficulties, due to the flop of a number 

of expensive features with big theatrical names. Triangle's publicity was 
poor, and there was little real showmanship behind the company. Fair- 
banks and Hart were terrific box-office draws, but comparatively little 
effort was made to exploit them, with all the publicity directed at stage 
imports like Billie Burke and DeWolf Hopper. The company planned a 
complicated financial merger with Famous Players, later Paramount, 
controlled by Adolph Zukor. Ultimately, the merger fell through, but in 
the process Zukor took over Griffith, Sennett, Ince, Fairbanks, Hart, 
writers Emerson and Loos, and a number of other top personalities. 
Triangle vainly tried, for four years, to overcome this staggering loss and 
get back on its feet. 93 

Even without the Zukor intervention, Hart would most probably have 
left Triangle in time, since his relations with Ince had become extremely HART AND REAL i SM 

strained, on the personal as well as the financial side. It is characteristic 
of Hart that he could endure unfair pay, knowing that Ince was making a 
fortune from him, but he could not tolerate Ince's curious dislike of Hart's 
pony, Fritz. Hart refused to let Ince use Fritz in any more films, and he 
promptly put the pony out to pasture. Fritz "himself" announced his 
resignation from the screen with ads in the trade papers, giving obviously 
phoney reasons for "his" decision. Exhibitors saw through the ad — as 
Hart had doubtless intended that they should. 

Nevertheless, despite his increasing dislike of Ince, Hart was a man of 
principle. He had a contract with Ince , and although it could doubt- 
less have been broken in some way, he decided to honor it. Thus, Ince 
was able to make his deal with Zukor in the newly formed Artcraft 

It was after Hart had severed his connections with Triangle, that all 
of his old films began to appear with different titles, often in totally dif- 
ferent versions. A dummy company named W. H. Productions was 
formed to release them (and old Sennett comedies, too). The practice 
didn't hurt Hart's new films nearly as much as Triangle had hoped it 
would, but Hart, furious, obtained from the Federal Trade Commission 
a ruling that when a film was released under a new title, its original title 
would have to be displayed along with it. That ruling still exists today, 
although it is often violated. 

Hart's first film, The Narrow Trail, for Artcraft was a promising start. 
Hart had his familiar crew with him, Joe August photographing, and 
now Lambert Hillyer directing. It was not only one of Hart's best films, 
but also a sort of synthesis of all that he had expressed before: sentiment, 
reformation, action, a love for his horse. The climactic race contained 
some of the best riding shots of Hart ever taken, and included several 

running inserts of Hart — a technique he seemed not to favor, for they 
were rarely used in his pictures, and then usually only for shots of 
stagecoaches (as in Wild Bill Hickok) and not individual riders. 

Although The Narrow Trail was the first film Hart made for Artcraft, 
it was actually the second to be released, coming out in January of 1918; 

William S. Hart in Wild Bill Hickok (1923). 

prior to it, The Silent Man had been released in late 1917. Original ex- 
cerpts of The Silent Man appeared in Warner's 1943 film, One Foot 
in Heaven. Fredric March, playing a Methodist minister, goes to a movie 
theatre for the first time, determined to know the "evil" at first-hand 
so that he can denounce it. Instead, he is quite converted to films by the 
moral and Christian lesson in The Silent Man. It was a charming sequence 
in a touching, usually under-rated film. 

Despite his higher budgets and the prestige of an Artcraft release, Hart 

showed no signs of slowing down, or concentrating on fewer, but bigger, 
pictures. Wolves of the Rail was released in January, 1918, and Blue Blazes 
Rawden (with Jack Hoxie, later a top Western star, in a supporting role) 
followed one month later. 

With The Tiger Man and Selfish Yates, there came the first signs, not of 
a decline, but of a mild stagnation. The pace was beginning to slow, and 
the repetition of incidents and characters was becoming more obvious. 
Some of Hart's best films were still ahead of him, but the uninterrupted 
flow of one top Western after another was over. 

Although Selfish Yates featured some interesting episodes, it was prob- 
ably his slowest, and most routine, subject to date. Shark Monroe was a 95 
good deal better, and somewhat off-beat. A melodrama in the style of 

The Spoilers, it was largely set in Alaska, and contained a sequence of HART AND E 

which Hart was presumably rather fond, since he duplicated it more 
than once. Bursting in on the heroine's wedding to another man, 
he forces the minister to marry the girl to him instead, and then forcibly 
abducts her. Such ungentlemanly conduct was rare in a Hart film, and 
when it occurred, there was a great deal of account-settling to be done 
before the hero finally considered himself worthy of the girl whose love 
he had taken rather than won! 

Katherine MacDonald, apparently the one woman that Hart really 
loved, was his leading lady in Riddle Gawne, a good action film that of- 
fered a solid role to Lon Chaney. Hart's emotional makeup generally 
convinced him that he was in love with most of his leading ladies. He 
proposed to Katherine MacDonald a dozen times — without success. 
There was a brief engagement to Anna Q. Nilsson, and one to Eva Novak. 
Jane, Eva's sister, refused him. He married only once, his bride being 
Winifred Westover, his leading lady in John Petticoats. Winifred was 
twenty years younger than Hart, and although it was she who pursued 
him in the days of their courtship, it was also she who ended the mar- 
riage. She was granted a divorce on February 11, 1927, less than six years 
after their marriage. In the interim, a son, William S. Hart, Jr., had been 
born, in 1922. 

Then, : n as a complete an about-face from anything he had done be- 
fore, or anything he was to do afterwards, Hart made Branding Broadway, 
with Seena Owen as his leading lady. It was a delightful film, one of 
Hart's most enjoyable, but completely in the light-hearted vein of 
Douglas Fairbanks, in particular, and, to a lesser degree, Tom Mix. 
Playing a Westerner brought to New York by a millionaire to watch over 
his wayward playboy son, he disported himself with distinction in a 
dress suit, and made the most of his ample comic opportunities. For once, 


action was introduced for its own sake, the pace was sprightly, and there 
was little or no sentimentality. The fights were staged with tremendous 
gusto, and in a hilarious climax Hart on horseback pursued the villain 
through the streets of New York and finally captured him with a lasso 
in the wilds of Central Park. Branding Broadway stands up remarkably 
well today, quite as well, certainly, as Douglas Fairbanks' very similar 
Manhattan Madness. Hart seems to have enjoyed himself immensely in 
the lead, but he probably regarded the film as casually as would a great 
painter his doodles. At any rate, he never again made such a carefree 
film. Not the least of Branding Broadway's many merits was the shooting 
qc of the film in Manhattan; the chase through the streets in the climax 

was, of course, doubly effective due to the use of authentic locales. 

Hart was a stickler for using authentic backgrounds when plots called 
for them. One of the best remembered of all images of William S. Hart 
occurs in The Narrow Trail; in full Western regalia, with Stetson and 
deadly looking guns, he strides confidently and casually down one of San 
Francisco's most exclusive residential boulevards. 

Hart returned to serious business with Breed of Men (filmed on location 
in Chicago, with many scenes shot in the stockyards), and Square Deal 
Sanderson. The latter was a good, straightforward action picture of the 
old school, with Hart playing a cowboy who saves a girl's ranch by pos- 
ing as her brother. Square Deal Sanderson had a strong climax in which 
the heroine, about to be assaulted by the villain, is saved by Hart who 
throws a lasso over the transom window, and literally hangs the villain 
he cannot see. 

Jane Novak and villain Robert McKim were back with Hart in his 
next film, Wagon Tracks, a spectacular, though still only five-reel, West- 
ern of a covered wagon trek. It was the success of this film that decided 
Paramount to make The Covered Wagon, although it was to be another 
four years before the plan was realized. Then came two disappointing 
films, John Petticoats and Sand. The first was made on location in New 
Orleans, with Hart cast in a typical role as "Hardwood" John Haynes, 
a rough and ready frontiersman suddenly thrust into society life. The 
plot was heavy, complicated by a suicide, psychological motivations, 
and other factors at which Hart was never at his best. Sand got back to 
the essentials of plot, but not to the vigor of pacing and direction. 
It marked the return to the screen of Fritz, the pony, and was President 
Woodrow Wilson's favorite Hart film. But the film was not nearly up to 
the standards set in The Aryan or Hell's Hinges, mainly because the story 
was needlessly protracted. 

Disappointing as Sand was, Hart's next film proved that it was still 

William S. Hart and Anna Q. 
Nilsson with Richard Headrick in 
The Toll Gate (1920). 

far too early to say that a definite decline was in progress. The Toll Gate 
ranks as one of his four or five best pictures, and was also his biggest 
money maker. In this film there can be no doubt that Hart gave the 
best that he had, for he was now free of Ince entirely, having formed 
his own company. 

The Toll Gate, then, was the first film made under the new arrange- 
ment. It reverted to the basic essentials of the Hart formula, and yet 
there was a surprising restraint in the sentimental passages which added 
poignancy, absent from many of his other films. Hart was again the out- 
law, "Black" Deering, and again he was reformed by a good woman, 
Mary Brown (Anna Q. Nilsson), and her son, "The Little Fellow" 
(Richard Headrick). The film had more suspense and dramatic values 
than usual, and the outcome was genuinely in doubt until the last 
moment. Sincerely in love with the heroine, and she with him, Hart was 
pitted against her worthless husband, who had deserted her. The two 
men finally confront each other, and following a vicious fight on the edge 
of a cliff, Hart literally throws the man to his death. Having earned the 
respect and admiration of the sheriff's men by deliberately casting away 


his freedom at one point (in defense of the heroine), he is offered 
an amnesty. The heroine pleads with him to marry her, for her sake, 
and that of her son. But Hart, feeling unworthy of her, and knowing 
that, even though justified, he killed her husband, rejects his one chance 
for happiness, and returns to the lonely life of the outlaw, even though 
he knows that he cannot expect to survive for more than a year or two. 
It was a moving and exciting film, and an auspicious start for the Wil- 
liam S. Hart Company. 

One of Hart's occasional non- Westerns followed; The Cradle of Courage. 
But even away from the range, the Hart code held: he played an ex- 
po crook who returns from the war and, finding that he now cannot return 
to a life of banditry, becomes a policeman. Episode followed episode in 
which his strength and honor were tested. 

The Testing Block, a six-reeler released in December, 1920, based on 
one of Hart's ideas, was one of the most interesting of his later pictures. 
Hart played the leader of a motley crew of outlaws". . . collected by 
the broom that swept hell ..." 

Hart's films now were becoming larger in scale, and there were fewer 
of them. He followed 1920's The Testing Block with O'Malley of the Mounted 
in 1921. It was a run-of-the-mill Hart film, rather carelessly made in 
general, with some poorly edited action sequences. The climax departed 
interestingly from Hart's formula in that Hart, becoming convinced of 
the innocence of the man he has been set out to trap — and respecting 
the outlaws he has now come to regard as friends — refuses to complete 
his mission, resigning to return as an ordinary ranger to claim the hand 
of Eva Novak. In 1921 he made another non-Western, The Whistle. 

Then White Oak followed in which Hart once again used the sister- 
motif. Hart played a river gambler, out to revenge himself on the man 
who had seduced his sister, indirectly causing her death. (Attempting to 
commit suicide by drowning herself, she was rescued, only to die of 
pneumonia.) It was powerful and beautifully photographed, but again — 
and this was particularly harmful at seven reels — slow-moving and 
overly sentimental. Better, but still short of its full potential, was Three 
Word Band, an unusual film, in which Hart played three different roles, 
the hero's role, that of his father, and that of his brother. The hero's role 
was a title role deriving from the character's clipped speech in three- 
word sentences ("Get out, quick!" or "Go to hell!"). The part was 
colorful and Hart had many opportunities to differentiate the three 
characters, one of which was the stoic Governor of the State. He played 
each part to the hilt, and he was aided by some first-class camera work. 
The film as a whole was a trifle confusing; it inclined to an excess of 


dialogue subtitles, but otherwise it finds a place among Hart's more in- 
teresting works. 

Travelin' On (1922) was perhaps the last of what one may term 
"vintage" Hart films: already there were unmistakable signs that Hart's 
reign was almost over, and that public opinion had shifted in favor of 
the more colorful and more "streamlined" Tom Mix. 

Unfortunately, Hart had only himself to blame. One had to respect 
Hart's love for the real West; at the same time, one had to admit that 
his work had become unashamedly sentimental, in its own way as 
cliche-ridden as the slick little "B" pictures he detested so much. He was 

growing older, too, finding it difficult to maintain the pace set in his 99 

earlier films. Hart still rode hard, and fought hard, but such sequences 
were kept to a minimum, while the pictures themselves seemed to grow 
longer. This slowdown in the pace was thrown into even greater relief 
by the accelerated pace of Westerns generally. Wild Bill Hickok, which 
opened with a delightful subtitle, Hart apologizing to his audience for 
not looking the least bit like Hickok, and asking his "friends" to accept 
him as he is, was an intensely personal work, superb in its action scenes, 
but surprisingly inaccurate historically as a result of Hart's romantic 
overindulgence with the facts, and excessively maudlin in its sentimental 

Although Wild Bill Hickok made money, Adolph Zukor and Jesse 
Lasky, who released Hart's films through Artcraft, a division of Famous 
Players, told Hart that exhibitors were tiring of his pictures. Hart, dis- 
believing them (and not without some cause, for although Zukor and 
Lasky promised to do so, they failed to produce any documentary 
evidence in the form of exhibitors' letters of complaints), went calmly 
about his business, making what was to be his last film under Zukor 
and Lasky, Singer Jim McKee. 

Unhappily, it was quite the worst film he had ever made, and 
seemed to lend no little credence to the complaints reported by his 
studio heads. Hart was touchy about his age, and insisted on playing a 
youthful hero in all his films, or in any event, the hero on whom age 
rests lightly, the man still capable of winning the love of a girl. This had 
earlier produced some illogical plots, but Hart went quite overboard in 
Singer Jim McKee. It was an absurd production, with a rambling story- 
line that included every favorite Hart incident. The film as a whole 
resembled a heavy melodrama, and it was far from the tight and realistic 
treatments the public had come to expect of Hart at his best. 

It was also a sad decline from Hell's Hinges and The Toll Gate, all the 
more depressing because it was a decline brought about not through 



studio supervision or any other external factors, but by Hart himself. 

Singer Jim McKee was the last straw for Zukor, who told Hart bluntly 
that from now on he would have to submit to supervision. He would 
continue to star, but in studio-picked stories and with studio-picked 

If this ultimatum seems rather harsh on the basis of only one really 
bad picture, it should be remembered that there had been increasing 
signs of this decline in Hart's recent pictures, and obviously the studio 
had to check him before he ruined himself as a property. 

Hart, needless to say, refused the ultimatum. He probably honestly 
felt that Singer Jim McKee was a fine film, and since his principles were 
far more important to him than a regular salary check, he left the 
Lasky studio, and to all intents retired from films. 

It seemed for a while that his old tradition might be revived when he 
returned to the screen in 1925 with Tumbleweeds for United Artists. Not 
only was it his comeback picture, but it was his first real epic, and, with 
a buget of $312,000, by far his biggest venture to date. Those who 
expected Hart to have given in, to have made the sort of Western that 
audiences apparently wanted (and that Zukor had earlier demanded 
that Hart make) were sadly mistaken. In Tumbleweeds, Hart reverted 
to type without compromise. It was austere, factual. Although showing 
his age more than ever, he still played an ostensibly young man, he still 
won the heroine at the end, and he even engaged in some skittish 
comedy scenes. The sentimental scenes had their usual high intensity, 

William S. Hart fights his own gang, 
one at a time, to prevent their kidnap- 
ping the beautiful girl member of a 
traveling show troupe. From The Test- 
ing Block (1919). 

The simple, glass-roofed stage at 
Inceville. William S. Hart in The 
Devil's Double (1916). 

and the climactic reunion scene was typical Hart emotion at its peak. 

In many ways, Tumbleweeds was one of the best of the Western epics: 
it was staged on a truly lavish scale, but again, Hart's refusal to intro- 
duce action for its own sake, and his refusal to "streamline" develop- 
ment made it seem more than a little slow and dated. The giant land 
rush sequence notwithstanding, its epic qualities were appreciated and 
noted far less than were those of The Covered Wagon, a film in many ways 
inferior to Tumbleweeds. 

Nevertheless, Tumbleweeds was a much greater success than Singer Jim 
McKee had been. Only in his use of Lucien Littlefield as a comic part- 
ner — an odd touch for Hart — was there a sign that, probably uncon- 
sciously, Hart had noted the existence of this cliche in the newer West- 
erns. A stickler for authenticity, Hart hated fakery of any kind, and thus 
there is fairly little stuntwork in the land rush sequence, possibly to its 
minor detriment. The crashing of a wagomis rather crudely arranged 
at one point, and this is typical of Hart, and a flaw that is noticeable in 
O'Malley of the Mounted and other films. If Hart had to resort to tricky 
stunt work to get an action effect, he usually chose to avoid it, or to get 
around it as well as possible by editing. 

The land rush itself, as the Cherokee strip is opened to settlers, was 
a mighty sequence, generally superior to the similar, and imitative, rush 

in Wesley Ruggles' Cimarron. It contained at least one shot of sheer 
poetry — Hart, galloping at top speed on his horse, rides over the crest 
of a hill, with the camera angled in such a way as to give the impres- 
sion of man and rider literally flying through space. (The ground level 
was just below the frameline of the image.) Unusually fine editing dis- 
tinguished the land rush sequence, and particularly the build-up to it. 
Between the subtitle, "Ready for the signal for the maddest stampede 
in American history" and the actual start of the rush, there are 
684 frames, split up into twenty-five separate shots, the shortest of 
which runs for only five frames (about a fifth of a second). This sequence 
i Q2 ' s almost mathematically constructed, the shots of the tense, anxious 

homesteaders running twice as long as those of the disinterested cavalry 
the western observers. There is also a simple, and telling, shot immediately preced- 

ing the rush itself. As noon, the hour for the rush, is reached, the ca- 
valrymen fire a cannon. There is a quick shot of Hart's horse, alone, 
tethered to a tree; it is startled by the noise, and breaks free. Then a 
cut to the mass activity of hundreds of wagons and riders beginning the 
rush, the stampede for land. 

Early in the film, there is one poignant moment when Hart and his 
riders, on the crest of a hill, watch the great trail herds being driven 
from the land that is soon to be made available to all settlers. As the 
herds drift by, Hart removes his hat sadly, and remarks: "Boys, it's the 
last of the West." And the others remove their hats reverently, and 
watch as an era passes into history. 

Hart's comment was in some ways a prophetic one. With the excep- 
tion of Edward L. Cahn's Law and Order (1932) and possibly John 
Ford's later The Wagonmaster, Tumbleweeds was the last of the old breed of 
Westerns. It was also Hart's last Western. Despite good reviews in New 
York and excellent business in its New York premiere, United Artists 
disliked the film and sought to cut it to five reels. Hart prevented this; 
United Artists hit back by deliberately mishandling the film, booking it 
into minor theaters where its commercial potential could not be real- 
ized. Hart then took the case to court, charging United Artists with 
breaching a stipulation in their contract, one calling for them to exert 
their best efforts on the film's behalf. (United Artists later went through 
a series of similar cases with other dissatisfied independent producers.) 
Hart won his case; in fact he never lost one of his many legal battles, 
despite wrangles with other important individuals and corporations. 
However, his victory was only a technical one, for the damage had 
been done. While he recouped his production costs, he estimated that 
he had lost half of a million dollars in unrealized profits. Discouraged, 

he retired from films, while still remaining on the fringe of the industry. 
He made a guest appearance in King Vidor's Marion Davies film, 
Show People, and was the subject of one or two Screen Snapshots shorts at 
Columbia. He coached both Johnny Mack Brown and Robert Taylor 
in their respective versions of Billy the Kid, and sold his old story, O'Mal- 
ley of the Mounted, to Fox for a remake with George O'Brien. While it 
was a competent enough Western, it bore little resemblance to the 
original except in the bare outlines, and Hart was so disgusted that he 
refused to sell any more of his properties for remakes. Instead, he 
settled on his Newhall ranch and wrote. Hart's books are heavy going, 
deliberately couched in rough Western vernacular, full of a rugged but 
far from rhythmic poetry. Nevertheless, they are well worth the effort 
it takes to read them, and his autobiography, My Life East and West, is 
particularly readable, even though Hart's tendency to romanticize pro- 
duced some inaccuracies. Tumbleweeds, then, marked William S. Hart's 
farewell to the screen. 

In 1939, the film was reissued in the United States by Astor Pictures, 
with music and effects added, and an eight-minute prologue. This pro- 
logue was photographed at Hart's Horseshoe Ranch in Newhall, and it 
is unquestionably one of the most moving reels of film ever made. It is 
virtually the film of a man delivering his own obituary. 

Hart, dressed in his beloved Western costume, walks slowly over the 
hill and up to the camera to address the audience. He is old, but still 
a fine figure of a man. He stands there before us more as a represent- 
ative of the old West itself than as a silent picture star. In a firm, beau- 
tifully modulated voice, Hart tells the audience of the picture's back- 
ground; he explains what the opening of the Cherokee Strip meant to 



William S. Hart served as technical adviser 
when King Vidor {center) made Billy the 
Kid in 1930 and donated one of Billy's guns 
to star Johnny Mack Brown. 


both the white man and the Indian. Then he goes on to discuss West- 
ern pictures, and as he tells how sorry he is that he is too old to make 
more of them, and how he misses little Fritz, his pinto pony, there are 
tears in his eyes. It is a magnificent, superbly touching speech, spoken 
with all the force and authority that Hart must have given to his 
Shakespearean roles; it was made in only two or three takes. Apart 
from being one of the longest speeches recorded on film, it is also, 
obviously, one of the most deeply felt. Some of the words, from a person 
other than Hart, might even seem unnecessarily sentimental. But from 
Hart, every word is so thoroughly sincere, that one can only be moved 
[Q4 beyond measure by the whole experience. Its emotional impact apart, it 

is also a reminder of what a truly fine actor Hart was; had he 
only been a little younger, he might well have taken the place in sound 
Westerns ultimately secured by Gary Cooper (and Henry Fonda in his 
Ford films). 

Hart off-screen 

Off-screen, Hart was much like his celluloid hero. His love of animals, 
especially of horses and dogs, was passionate and sincere. Any wrangler 
working for him who failed to loosen his horse's cinch during the lunch 
break, or who was otherwise cruel or thoughtless, was dismissed on the 
spot. He lived quietly on his Newhall ranch, avoided any kind of scan- 
dal, drank like a gentleman, and loved a hard game of stud poker more 
than any other kind of relaxation. His reaction to misfortune was 
always unpredictable. He merely shrugged off the news that he had lost 
a large investment in a Dakota bank. While shooting John Petticoats on 
location in New Orleans, he was told that I nee had stolen the Hart com- 
pany books. "I'll be damned!" he exclaimed — and went right on 
shooting. However, Lambert Hillyer recalls that when a woman bumped 
into Hart's brand-new car and dented his fender, he wasn't fit to work 
with for days. But characteristically, Hillyer reports, Hart did not vent 
his spleen on the driver, for to Hart every woman was a lady. He was 
a loyal friend, too, but a man with an obstinate streak, and once an 
enemy, he was an enemy for life. 

Hart's close friends included Western lawmen Wyatt Earp, "Uncle 
Billy" Tilghman, and "Bat" Masterson, as well as Will Rogers, artists 
Charles Russell and James Montgomery Flagg, and even Pat O'Malley, 
a reformed outlaw who had ridden with the Al Jennings gang. He 
drew no lines, racial, religious, or social. As the late G. W. Dunston, 
one of Hart's oldest friends, and a motion picture projectionist until his 

death in 1957, once remarked: "Hart was a Christian — and it showed 
in every one of his films." 

He planned to return to the screen on at least one occasion in 
the early Thirties. Hal Roach was planning a large-scale Western along 
the lines of Wagon Tracks, and just at that time Hart was preparing to 
do a Peter B. Kyne story at RKO. Hillyer was to have been associated 
with both ventures. Both failed to materialize — mainly because the pass- 
ing of years had not lessened Hart's determination to make Westerns 
his way or not at all. Among his requirements remained the stipulation 
that he still play the ostensibly young hero who wins the girl in 
the fadeout. 

Hart's regard for the truth of the old West on the screen could, in 
fact, be affected by only one thing — a sincere wish not to hurt anyone's 
feelings. A case in point was his film, Wild Bill Hickok. Although he had 
not known Hickok personally, he knew a great deal about him from 
his father, and from others who had been contemporaries of the famed 
frontiersman. Thus Hart was able to construct a historically accurate, 
although artistically sentimentalized version of Hickok's life, this accu- 
racy even extending to the little known fact that in his later life, Hickok 
began to go blind. (Hart achieved some interesting effects at this point 
in the film by having his camera go out of focus.) One of the legendary 
stories concerning Hickok is his gun battle with the McCanless boys, 
who jumped him at a relay station. What really started the fracas was 



Robert Taylor, a later "Billy the 
Kid," visits Hart in his retirement 
on his Newhall Ranch. Behind them 
is the grave of Hart's pinto pony, 

The half-life-size bronze statue 
of William S. Hart, awarded to 
the best bronc-buster at the 1926 
Wyoming Frontier Days celebra- 
tion in Cheyenne. 

never recorded, but it is an established fact that Hickok killed at least 
four men in the battle. When it was known that Hart was going 
to incorporate this incident into his picture, relatives of the McCanless 
clan wrote him, asking that their family name not be dishonored. Hart, 
realizing that there were undoubtedly two sides to the story of that 
battle, and not wanting to cause distress to any McCanless descendants, 
willingly changed the names in his film. 

In 1 943, Hart's sister Mary, whom he loved dearly, and who had written 
several books with him, died. She had been ill for years, as a result of in- 
juries received in an automobile wreck. Hart lost much of his zest for 
living, and his eyesight began to fail. He wrote G. W. Dunston: "At times 
I can hardly see at all," and added: "There is nothing I can attribute my 
illness to, except that I believe it is caused by the deep grief I feel over 
the loss and absence of my darling sister. At times it seems to be too great 
a burden to carry. She was in all reality the better part of my existence." 

He died in Los Angeles on June 23, 1946, and was buried in Green- 
wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, alongside his mother, father, two sisters, and 
the baby brother who had first been buried in Dakota. 

He left an estate of well over a million dollars. Relatively little was 
bequeathed to his son: Hart was rather disappointed in the way the boy 
turned out. To him, he just didn't measure up, but knowing Hart, and 
the rigorous yardsticks he applied, this may not have been due to any 
real shortcomings on the part of his son. There had been no actual ill 
will between them, and Hart did leave his son some money, although 
not enough to permit the younger Hart to fall back on it without earn- 
ing his own way. This, too, was typical of the man. The bulk of 
the estate, after bequests to several charities, including fifty thousand 
dollars to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, was left 
to Los Angeles County. In his lifetime, Hart had also given fifty thou- 
sand dollars to the City Park Commission, to effect improvements on 
his old West Hollywood estate, which he had also given to the Commis- 
sion as a park. He added: "I'm trying to do an act of justice. I'm trying 
to give back to the American people what the American people so 
generously gave me." 

The bequest of his estate to Los Angeles County carried with it the 
stipulation that his Horseshoe Ranch be turned into a public park, and 
his home a museum for the Western material he had assembled. For 
years, the ranch, with the WS brand on the front gate, was sealed, with 
barbed-wire fences to keep out trespassers. Valuable deposits of oil on 
the land were said to be the reason for the indecision concerning the 
future of the property. But finally Hart's wishes were respected, and the 

ranch was opened to the public as a museum. Beautifully maintained 
with care and respect by a custodian and staff, it is not exactly a huge 
tourist attraction, but stands as a fascinating and invaluable landmark 
to students of both Western history and Western film history. Livestock 
is maintained there, and the corrals and other aspects of work-a-day 
ranch life remain as they were, unglamorized for exhibition purposes. 
The graveyard for Fritz and Hart's many other pets is neatly kept. And 
Hart's workrooms remain, too, with many of his scripts, props, cos- 
tumes, guns, and saddles intact, representing a marvelous collection of 
Western lore. 

The ranch, situated atop a hill (and overlooking Harry Carey's 1Q7 

former ranch) is truly a majestic sight. One can well imagine how 
happy Hart must have been to retire here — and in his final years, 
perhaps, how lonely. At sundown, with its solitude, and the great 
expanses of rolling hills on every side, it must have harmonized espe- 
cially well with the sentimental "close to God" philosophy that had 
always been so pronounced in his activity, but which became even 
more emphasized in his last years. No more appropriate setting could 
be found for this final adieu of a grand old man who loved truth of the 
West and the Western with a passion and a devotion rarely shared 
later by other human beings. 


Tom Mix andi 




"/ want to keep my pictures 
in such a vein that parents 
will not object to letting their 
children see me on the screen. 

If William S. Hart brought stature, poetry, 
and realism to the Western, Tom Mix 
unquestionably introduced showmanship, as 
well as the slick, polished format that was to 
serve Ken Maynard and Hoot Gibson in 
the Twenties and Gene Autry and Roy 
Rogers in the Thirties. His influence as 
such outlived that of Hart in the long run. 
Mix, born in 1880, in Clearfield County, 
Pennsylvania (and certainly not "in a log 
cabin north of El Paso," as so many roman- 
ticized biographies put it), was blessed with 
a colorful and adventurous early career. 
While the Western background attributed 
to him is authentic, it was a background 
that he drifted into in his twenties and not 
one that he was born into. 

Having unsuccessfully tried to enlist in 
the Navy while still in his teens, Mix settled 
for the U. S. Army instead, and saw action 
in the Spanish- American war; field artillery 
then was horsedrawn, and a soldier auto- 
matically went through much the same 
training as a cavalryman. He then saw 
service in the Philippine insurrection, and 
later he fought at Peking in the Boxer 
Rebellion, as a member of the American 
Expeditionary Force. 

Mustered out of the Army upon his 
return to America, he was soon back in 
action again — this time breaking horses 
that were being sent to the British Army 
for use in the war against the Boers. He 
accompanied a shipment of horses to the 
British troops in Africa, and remained there 
for a period as a wrangler. 




The African sojourn over, the wanderer 
migrated West and assumed a rather no- 
madic existence in Texas, Oklahoma, 
and Kansas, working at first as an ordi- 
nary cowpuncher, and later joining the 
Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch, one of the 
finest, and certainly the most famous, of 
all the Wild West shows. Officially acting 
as livestock foreman, Mix talked himself 
into a position as a rodeo performer, and 
became a champion prize winner in the 
1909 rodeos at Prescott, Arizona, and 
Canon City, Colorado. During those 
barnstorming days he formed a close 
friendship with Will Rogers, and saw 
action as a law enforcement officer — with 
the Texas Rangers, as a sheriff in Kansas 
and Oklahoma, and as a deputy U. S. 
marshal for the eastern division of Okla- 
homa. Studio publicity has undoubtedly 
colored some of this phase of Mix's career, 
but documentary evidence does exist con- 
firming that Mix's law enforcing activities 
were quite as rugged as his later movie 
adventures. The story of Mix's capture of 
the notorious New Mexico cattle rustlers, 
the Shonts Brothers, could have been 
taken from any one of his later Western 
thrillers for Fox. 

But he was beginning to show tentative 
signs of settling down. Having bought a 
ranch in the Cherokee territory of Okla- 
homa, he married Olive Stokes, the third 
of his five wives. But far from retiring to a 
sedate ranching life, Mix's career was just 
beginning, and it was the acquistion of the 
ranch that directly led to his entry into 
motion pictures. The Selig Company in 
Chicago was looking for a good ranch 
location, and for someone who knew the 
surrounding country. Informed of this, 

Tom Mix in a typical action scene 
from one of his last Fox vehicles, 
Hello, Cheyenne (1928). 

Mix immediately offered both 
his services and his ranch to 
Selig, who accepted, dispatch- 
ing a unit to shoot a documen- 
tary film entitled, Ranch Life in 
the Great South West, a simple 
and straightforward little work 
depicting the processes in- 
volved in rounding up cattle 
and shipping them to the east- 
ern markets. The director was 
Francis Boggs, whose career 
came to a tragic end shortly 
afterwards. While directing on 
Selig's open-air stage in Los 
Angeles, he was shot down and 
killed by a crazed man. 

On this, his first association 
with Selig, Mix acted in the 
capacity of general adviser, 
taking charge of the cowboys, 
always available, just out of 
camera range, to shoot or rope 
any animal that got out of con- 
trol. When the film was fin- 
ished, Mix assumed that his 
work for Selig was at an end. 
Thus, struck by wanderlust 
again, he drifted into Mexico 
joining Madero's forces, and at 
one point was even set up be- 
fore a firing squad. 

Upon his return home, Mix 
learned that the Selig Com- 
pany had been trying to find 
him, and promptly left for Chi- 
cago to investigate. Possibly, 
the mere thought of doing 
something new prompted his 
decision to join Selig again, 
for his earlier association with 

the Colonel had not been markedly promising or rewarding. As a now 
permanent member of the Selig Company, he repeated his role as a "safety 
man" keeping troublesome animals in control, doubling in tricky scenes 
in Selig's popular jungle and wild animal adventures. He later recalled 
having been asked to battle a pair of wolves, barehanded. Ultimately 
he started to act, both in Chicago and California, one of his first 
appearances for Selig being in Back to the Primitive, which starred 
Kathlyn Williams. 

Soon he was permanently attached to the company's California studio, 
and between 1911 and 1917, he made between seventy and one hundred 
i i o one- and two-reelers for Selig, with predominantly Western backgrounds. 

In many Mix functioned as star, author, and director, and it is probably 
the western because of this that so many of the films looked like artless affairs shot 

with little or no preparation. This is no discredit to Mix, since his back- 
ground, anything but an artistic one, hardly qualified him to step right 
into a writer-director's role. The wonder is that with his limitations, he 
turned out so many films so quickly. 

The pictures fluctuated between simple, folksy comedies in the Will 
Rogers vein {Mrs. Murphy's Cooks, Why the Sheriff Is a Bachelor) to more 
conventional Westerns (In the Days of the Thundering Herd, Pony Express 
Rider) which often were mere showcases for Mix's spectacular riding 
stunts. Many of these little films, e.g. Sagebrush Tom and Mr. Haywood, 
Producer, are of particular interest and value to film historians today, 
because they were comedies built around the business of making West- 
erns. They featured backstage shots of the Selig studios, glimpses of sets 
and old cameras, close-ups of Selig's notes with instructions to the crew, 
etc. Sagebrush Tom had a comedy sequence in which Mix, shown an ad 
for the Italian Quo Vadis, attempts to restage the fight with the bull in 
his Western corral. The quality of these shorts varied considerably; some 
had surprisingly vigorous action material, but others were dreary. As a 
group, they were generally below the standards of other Western shorts 
being made at the time. They were not even representative of the best 
Selig Westerns, for certainly films like The Range Law (1913) with Wil- 
liam Duncan were superior. 

During these seven years, Broncho Billy Anderson was at the peak of 
his fame, soon to retire, and Hart had been introduced, graduating in 
this same period from two-reelers to five-reel features. If any one of 
Mix's films in this period really stood out, it was probably Chip of the 
Flying U (1914) in which he co-starred with Kathlyn Williams. It was a 
good action story by Peter B. Kyne, and was directed by Colin Camp- 
bell, who also directed one of Selig's most successful action features, The 


Although this latter film seems fairly ordinary today, and its famous 
fight between William Farnum and Tom Santschi eclipsed by later 
screen battles, it was a tremendously popular action film, perhaps be- 
cause of the unusual realism of the sets and exteriors. Its popularity ex- 
ceeded even the De Mille-Lasky production of The Squaw Man, directed 
by De Mille in Hollywood in late December, 1913, principally because 
the Mix film production enjoyed better weather conditions and could 
also take advantage of Hollywood's laboratory facilities. 

The Squaw Man's, chief claim to fame is its quite erroneous allegation 
that it was the first feature film made in Hollywood. However, it and 

Selig's The Spoilers were both among the early really successful Westerns. JJ3 

The Squaw Man was remade twice by De Mille, both at times in his 
career when he was retrenching, with future policy still undetermined. 
The Spoilers was remade four times. 

Although the Mix period with Selig was generally uneventful, this 
was due more to company policy than to any shortcomings on the part 
of Mix. Selig was mostly interested in, and geared for, the production of 
shorts, limiting Mix to one-, two- and three-reelers. Committed to 
quantity, he had no time to develop his own screen personality, or to 
enlarge the scope of the films themselves. Nevertheless, the films proved 
to be a useful training ground for Mix, and they did improve as they 
went along. When he joined Fox in 1917, there was no uncertainty or 
faltering; he became an immediate star attraction. 

Only then did Selig realize the commercial potential of the old Mix 
films and he immediately began by re-editing the old shorts. Some of 
these "new" Selig-Tom Mix Westerns, films like Twisted Trails and The 
Heart of Texas Ryan, are still in circulation and show, if not cohesion, at 
least considerable ingenuity. One complete reel of Twisted Trails is taken 
from a film in which Mix did not even appear, and serves merely 
to establish the predicament of the heroine (Bessie Eyton) in running 
away from an unwanted marriage. An earlier reel had established Mix 
as a wandering cowboy; then, at the beginning of reel three, an inserted 
subtitle reads: "Thus were the twisted trails of the boy and girl joined 
together" — whereupon Mix meets the heroine, an accident she has had 
having thrown them together. The remainder of the film consists of one 
of their co-starring two-reelers. Neither Mix nor Fox was too concerned 
over these manipulations, but Fox stressed that Mix had been seen 
previously only in comedies (a statement that was far from correct) and 
that his new films were his first as a Western star. 

When Fox signed Mix in 1917, his real career began. Although Mix 
began with a two-reeler, Six Cylinder Love, written, produced, and 
directed by Mix himself, he switched immediately to features like Durand 

A production shot from Tom Mix's 
Just Tony (1922); the muscular as- 
sistant in the striped shirt is George 
O'Brien, soon to be a Western star 
himself. (Page 115.) 

of the Badlands, directed by a former Ince man, Richard Stanton. These 
were good films, endowed with strong production values, skilled direction, 
and excellent locations. A decision was soon made to create a unique 
film personality for Mix; Fox did not want Mix to become a carbon copy 
of Hart. The new star's films were to contain strong comic elements, mak- 
ing a special play for the juvenile trade. Early films in this category were 
Cupid's Roundup and Six Shooter Andy, directed by Chester and Sidney 
Franklin. They used popular juvenile stars from the recent successes, 
Jack and the Beanstalk and Aladdin and His Lamp. 

One year later, when Mix's film career at Fox was just getting under 
way, that of William S. Hart was at its zenith. But by 1920, in terms of 
audience popularity, Hart's career began a gradual decline with Mix 
taking over unquestioned supremacy in the Western field. His films for 
Fox over a ten-year period literally made the company, just as the 

Autry Westerns in the mid-Thirties put Republic on the map. The lush 
Theda Bara-Annette Kellerman period behind him, William Fox was 
only moderately successful when Mix joined his company. Just as, at 
Warners, Rin Tin Tin helped pay for the costly but unprofitable prestige 
features with John Barrymore, so did Tom Mix's films enable Fox to 
encourage the production of such classic, but financially unsuccessful 
films as Murnau's Sunrise. Fox openly admitted Mix's value, giving him 
the full "star treatment." The cowboy had his own production unit, an 
elaborate private bungalow — everything that went with the status of a 
Hollywood star in the movies' most colorful era. 

By 1925, Mix was being paid seventeen thousand dollars per week 
and he was earning every cent of it for the studio. Mix wrote and directed 
only one of his features under the Fox contract, The Daredevils, made in 
1919. Direction per se interested him hardly at all, but he was concerned 
with the overall conception of his Westerns, so much so that, in their 
own way, they were as much personal productions as were the films of 



%*. * 


William S. Hart. Aimed at a wide audience, they were breezy and 
cheerful, "streamlined" entertainment that rarely attempted a realistic 
re-creation of the West as it was, offering instead action and excitement 
spiced with a boyish sense of fun. 

Mix went out of his way to devise little stunts and "bits of business" 
which were utilized for their own sake, regardless of story continuity or 
their own probability. Mix's screen character never drank, swore, or 
even used violence without due cause. His scripts usually saw to it that 
he was never required to kill a villain, or even wound him if it could be 
avoided. Instead, he would capture and subdue them by some elaborate 
«g lasso-work, or by some fancy stunts. His idealized Western hero, pos- 

sessed of all the virtues and none of the vices, helped usher in the code 
of clean-living, non-drinking, and somewhat colorless sagebrush heroes, 
a code that remained in force until the early Fifties, when Bill Elliott, 
playing the tough Westerner characterized by Hart, began to restore the 
balance to a more realistic level. 

Almost all of the Mix films were made on location, far away from the 
studio. He made a point of using National Park sites for many films, 
often writing and constructing the films deliberately so that these loca- 
tions could be exploited as an integral part of the plot. He once stated: 
"I want as many people as possible to know what wonderful possessions 
they own, and to stir up in them a desire to see these places." There was 
hardly a location of importance and beauty that the Mix troupe failed 
to cover, although it appeared that he had a special fondness for 

Like William S. Hart and John Ford, Mix had his own crew on whom 
he could rely. Lynn Reynolds directed more than a dozen of Mix's Fox 
Westerns. Cliff Smith and Lambert Hillyer, old Hart alumni, were two 
more directors in whom Mix frequently put his trust. John Ford directed 
two Mix films, Three Jumps Ahead and North of Hudson Bay, and William 
Beaudine, George Marshall, Edward Sedgewick, Jack Conway, Lewis 
Seiler, Jack Blystone, Gene Forde, and Edward Le Saint were others 
who at one time or another directed Mix. 

In his choice of cameramen, Mix favored Daniel B. Clark, a former 
soldier and division boxing champion who had been with Fox since 
1919, after Mix had joined the studio, and who had started to work for 
Mix as a still cameraman. Clark was soon assigned as an assistant 
cameraman under Ben Kline and Frank B. Good, and later promoted 
to the head position for Just Tony. Clark and Mix, both alike in so many 
ways, and both rugged adventurers with army backgrounds, hit it off 
together right away. Clark shot all of the remainder of Mix's Fox West- 
erns — more than forty films which were characterized by superior pho- 

tography of these exceptionally beautiful locations. 

Mix's films were of sufficient importance to warrant name leading 
ladies, and among those who appeared opposite Mix at Fox were Colleen 
Moore, Patsy Ruth Miller, and Lois Wilson. 

During his stay at Fox, he was instrumental in getting a number of 
other cowboy actors launched in their careers. Buck Jones began as a 
trick rider with the Mix unit, and was soon afterwards placed by Fox 
into a starring series of his own, patterned after the Mix films. John 
Wayne also got his first break with Mix, who got him a job as a prop 
boy. And George O'Brien worked for some months as an assistant 

cameraman with the Mix unit. Upon leaving Fox to join another unit, JJ7 

O'Brien drifted into acting; he was making so little progress that he 

had signed on as a galley slave in Frank Lloyd's The Sea Hawk when TOM MIX AND showmanship 

John Ford finally contacted him and gave O'Brien the role in The Iron 
Horse that was to bring him fame. 

All told, Mix made more than sixty features for Fox, among them such 
off-beat subjects as Tom Mix in Arabia and Dick Turpin. The latter was 
an elaborate and carefully made "special," but although it earned 
money, and although Mix went through his traditional riding stunts, 
the sight of Tom Mix in period costume, dueling with a sword instead of 
a six-shooter, did not sit too well with his fans, and in his next film he 
reverted permanently to the costume and character that were expected 
of him. 

Mix was consistent in his screen roles: he avoided the reformed-outlaw 
type, and that of the dude who went West to make a man of himself. 
Nor did he attempt the role of the cowpuncher who tames and marries 
the willful heiress, something that most Western stars have done at least 
once in their careers. Mix had very definite ideas about the sort of West- 
erner he should play, and his own words are to the point: "I ride into 
a place owning my own horse, saddle, and bridle. It isn't my quarrel, but 
I get into trouble doing the right thing for somebody else. When it's all 
ironed out, I never get any money reward. I may be made foreman of 
the ranch and I get the girl, but there is never a fervid love scene." 

Mix's simplified and apparently cliche description of his own format 
hardly does justice to the films. His Westerns might not have been either 
"poetic" or "adult," but they were well written, with three-dimensional 
characters, sensible motivation, and often highly imaginative plots. 
Among his more notable Westerns at Fox were Rough Riding Romance 
(very much off the beaten track in that it had a Ruritanian background), 
and Tumbling River (in which Tony, Tom's horse, was given a frisky 
colt as a partner). 

Just Tony was Tom's own tribute to his horse, much as Hart had made 


Pinto Ben and The Narrow Trail a tribute to Fritz. The film had some ex- 
ceptionally fine animal footage and, as always, was loaded with action; 
Dan Clark recalls it as being one of the best of the Mix films. Lambert 
Hillyer's choice as the best is The Lone Star Ranger, adapted from two 
Zane Grey stories. The Rainbow Trail, made when Mix was at the 
absolute height of his career, was another outstanding Western, and con- 
tained some of the finest stunt work ever filmed. 

Mix was wise enough not to let the success of his pictures influence 
him into making them "bigger" and more pretentious. Even at his peak, 
he never abandoned the five- or six-reel feature. The Great K & A Rob- 
bery, shot on location in Colorado, using the Denver and The Rio Grande 
Western Railroad, was another top Western notable for its stunting. In 
the western one scene Tom escaped from the villains by hanging from an aerial 

cable, sliding down it to land on Tony, while on another occasion he 
and a gang of villains engage in a no-holds-barred fight atop a fast- 
moving freight train. Since Westerns with railroading backgrounds (out 
of fashion nowadays, alas) were popular with audiences in the days of 
silents, Mix, with his boyish love of adventure, wrote train sequences 
into his films whenever he could. Having written the trains in, the next 
move was to write in as many fights, chases, and stunts revolving around 
the trains as possible. Dan Clark recalls that he set up his cameras on 
every conceivable part of a locomotive during his days with Mix — and 
for that matter, on almost every other type of vehicle, including the cage 
of an aerial cable. No Man's Gold (1926), for instance, contained a typi- 
cally whirlwind finish; Tom capturing the villains by sweeping down on 
their shack at high speed in a steel ore bucket suspended by a cable. 

Unfortunately, most of the great Mix Westerns are no longer in 
existence, the chemical effects of time on old film in this case having 
been assisted by a disastrous fire at Fox, in which many valuable prints 
and negatives were burned. But at least single prints of two Mix films 
from the Twenties have been saved, Sky High and Riders of the Purple Sage. 
It is perhaps sad that the latter, an atypical Mix film and one of the 
weakest at that, should remain while others, far better, have apparently 
vanished for all time. 

Sky High, however, is about as typical a Tom Mix film as one could 
hope to find, as exhilarating and thrilling now as it was in 1922. 
Incidentally, it would seem to substantiate the claim that Mix rarely if 
ever used a double. Certainly all Western stars, at one time or another, 
have used doubles for action scenes, but Mix used them far less than 
most. Mix, himself, was quite touchy on this point; his unit included a 
few stuntmen who could take over for him in certain scenes if necessary, 

but they and the rest of the crew were sworn to absolute secrecy. Sky 
High seems not to have taken advantage of these daredevils at all, for 
Tom tackles villains, falls from a horse, and hops over rocks along the 
rim of the Grand Canyon, all with the camera grinding away at close 

Riders of the Purple Sage gave Tom few opportunities for such stunting, 
and was perhaps the only Western he made in the more restrained 
William S. Hart vein. Somber and austere, even a little bloodthirsty, it 
was based on a typically complicated Zane Grey plot. It seemed too 
heavy a vehicle for high-spirited Tom Mix, and he seemed ill at ease 
having to take his material so seriously. But, substandard or not, Riders 
of the Purple Sage confirmed again what real production values Mix put 
into his movies, and what superb camerawork Dan Clark could create. 

Enjoying fame and success, Mix lived now like an Oriental potentate. 
He built an enormous mansion in Beverly Hills, complete with swim- 
ming pool and an English butler. His cars were custom built, with hand- 
tooled leather upholstery and fittings of silver. He dressed lavishly, and 
began the fashion, later exploited by Autry and Rogers, of wearing out- 
fits that more resembled uniforms than range clothing. One of his more 
garish items of apparel was a horsehair belt, fastened with a diamond- 



Riders of Death Valley (1932), one of Mix's last Westerns. 

My Pal the King (1932), a typical 
Mix feature combining Ruritanian ad- 
venture with Western heroics. The boy 
King is Mickey Rooney. 

studded buckle, and emblazoned with the slogan: "Tom Mix, America's 
Champion Cowboy." 

When Mix's Fox contract came to a close, he moved to FBO, 
an energetic independent company that specialized in first-class West- 
ern and other action films. It was then under the direction of Joseph P. 
Kennedy, John F. Kennedy's father. Mix's Westerns at this new studio 
retained both the format and the previous high standards, although the 
budgets were slightly smaller. Because of an incomplete contract at Fox, 
Dan Clark was unable to join Mix at FBO, but they worked together 
again in Mix's sound Westerns for Universal and Mascot. 

The FBO series was short-lived. The sound era was ushered in and 
the company was reorganized as RKO. Their initial specialty was very 
"talkie" adaptations of stage plays, to the exclusion of Westerns. In the 
early Thirties, however, Mix, again with his own unit, made an excel- 
lent series of sound Westerns for Universal. The formula never varied: 
escapes, tricks, showmanship, stunts. In one film, My Pal the King 
(a Ruritanian adventure with Mickey Rooney as a boy-king), Mix 
stepped "outside" the movie for a moment, directly addressed the audi- 
ence, and asked that it try to put itself in the shoes of the child in the 
movie who was about to see his first rodeo. It was a touching moment, 
and offered an interesting glimpse of another Tom Mix. 

Sound did not improve the Mix Westerns, for when he recited dialogue 
he was often unconvincing. He put little meaning or expression into his 
lines, and his speech was often slurred until it was partially incoherent. 
But the films were still enjoyable. Casting was still good, as was the 
direction. The first Destry Rides Again was one of the films made at this 
time, and like most of them it was quite elaborately mounted when one 


considers how quickly and cheaply it was made. These films would have 
made a reasonable, if not notable, farewell to the screen. But unfortu- 
nately Mix chose to make his farewell in a 1935 serial for Mascot, The 
Miracle Rider. Overlong, slimly plotted, and cheaply made, it was a sorry 
affair. Mix's speech had deteriorated further and, while he still rode well, 
most of his action was handled by doubles. (This was at least partially 
a matter of economy, allowing two units to operate simultaneously.) 
However, the film was a solid financial success, both in its serial and 
feature versions. It was earning money as late as the Fifties on television 
in the United States and in cinemas abroad. 

Mix's last years were spent in characteristically energetic fashion. In J2J 

1932 he married again, this time Mabel Hubbel Ward, a trapeze artist, 
and before Universal brought him back to the screen, he announced his 
"retirement," joining the Sells Floto Circus. He was still a magnificent 
sight, husky, over six feet tall, handsome in a rugged way, with a sun- 
tanned, deeply lined face. He dressed always in his solid white outfit, 
with big peaked sombrero, and black boots; Tony was with him, of 
course. He was paid ten thousand dollars a week by the circus, and 
motored across the country with it in a lavish Rolls Royce. Obviously 
prosperous, he didn't need to return to films, and apparently at that 
time had no intention of doing so. In an interview early in 1931 he stated 
that he — and Tony — liked the circus, that he felt fitter than he had in 
years, and that, although in his late fifties, he felt like a man of thirty. 
Despite his athletic appearance, his many injuries, both from combat 
in earlier years and from movie mishaps later on, must have had their 
effect on him. His body was literally a mass of scars, while shat- 
tered bones were held together with surgical wire. 

Even after The Miracle Rider, he remained active in show business. In 
1935, he hit the road again with the Tom Mix Wild Animal Circus. In 
all probability he had little control over it, and was merely being paid 
for the use of his name. But it was a popular show, and seemed to 
please his admirers. However, as far as the entertainment business was 
concerned, it was his last venture. 

Five years later he was killed in an automobile accident near Florence, 
Arizona. On October 12, 1940, his car failed to make a curve at a de- 
tour sign and turned over; the great cowboy's neck was broken. So, at 
sixty, Mix died in keeping with the way he had lived. A statue of a rider- 
less pony has been erected to mark the spot of his death. At Fox, they 
have remembered Tom Mix, too; one of the big sound stages there bears a 
bronze plaque dedicating the stage to the memory of "Tom Mix and 

Douglas Fairbanks anc 

ohn Ford: 

'he 'dreamed reality' on the screen 
an move forward and backward 
\\ecause it is really an external 
id ubiquitous virtual present, 
'he action of drama goes 
•exorably forward because 

creates a future, a Destiny; 

e dream mode is an endless Now. 


During Tom Mix's Selig period, a gradual 
standardization of the Western began, lead- 
ing ultimately to the beginnings of the "series" 
Western with set stars (Harry Carey, Wil- 
liam Russell, Roy Stewart) and formats. 
Triangle, which released the Hart pictures, 
had other interesting Western subjects, the 
best of them made, as we have seen, by or 
under the supervision of D. W. Griffith. 
Ince's Westerns, as The Deserter and The 
Bugle Call, for example, continued to be well- 
made "spectaculars," but they were little 
more than expanded versions of his earlier 
two-reelers. Griffith, at the head of Fine 
Arts, his subsidiary at Triangle, was not 
only producing such interesting Westerns as 
The Wild Girl of the Sierras, with Mae Marsh, 
Robert Harron and Wilfrid Lucas, but also 
spectacular films of the caliber of The Martyrs 
of the Alamo, dealing with the 1836 war be- 
tween Mexico and Texas. Highlights of this 
picture were the battles at the Alamo and 
San Jacinto. This period in western history 
was later covered again in sound Westerns, 
among which we may mention Republic's 
Man of Conquest, and The Last Command, 
Universal's The Man from the Alamo, Allied 
Artists' The First Texan, and recently John 
Wayne's The Alamo. 

By far some of the most delightful and 
off-beat of the Triangle Westerns were those 
starring Douglas Fairbanks. Their quality 
was astonishingly uneven; some, like The 
Americano and Flirting with Fate, were both 
clumsy and slow; others, like His Picture in 





the Papers and American Aristocracy, were brilliant films, not only exciting 
in their action, but subtle and inventive in their comedy. His Picture in 
the Papers, in particular, with its satire on the American craze for pub- 
licity, was a little gem of the film art. 

Several of Fairbanks' thirteen films for Triangle were Westerns, among 
them The Good Bad Man, The Half-Breed and, best of all, Manhattan 
Madness. The latter was to prove a blueprint for the best of Fairbanks' 
later pictures for Artcraft, casting him as the irrepressible modern youth, 
happily unconcerned with making a living, existing only for adventure. 
Fairbanks played the role of a Westerner who came to his staid New 
York club and regaled its members with tales of his exciting adventures 
in the West. Determined to show him that the metropolis on the Hudson 
can be as vigorous a place as Texas, the clubmen fake a kidnapping, 
and give the modern d'Artagnan full rein to go through his paces. In 
the process, he triumphs over all obstacles — including hordes of villains — 
that are placed in his way. 

The best of Fairbanks' films (before The Mark qf^orro set him making 
costume dramas) were all madcap adventures, with as much comedy as 
action, with both elements beautifully interwoven, films not intended to 
be taken seriously for a moment. It is unfortunate that Fairbanks' 

|^b A 

* ^Hn^H 


i 1JM 

- s£ w 



«•*• ^H 

The classic "High Noon" shoot-out 
was satirized by Douglas Fair- 
banks as early as 1916 in Man- 
hattan Madness. 

Douglas Fairbanks, the eternal 
optimist in the face of all odds. 
From The Knickerbocker 
Buckaroo (1919), one of the 
best of many Westerns he made 
prior to 1920. 

greatness is frequently "^measured by such films as Robin Hood and The 
Thief of Bagdad; these films were pretentious affairs, and one can only 
assume that many critics and historians of the cinema have either for- 
gotten, or are totally unaware of his earlier and livelier work. 

The best of Fairbanks' Westerns for Artcraft, made just before he 
switched to United Artists, are of the highest quality. They include The 
Man from Painted Post, The Knickerbocker Buckeroo and Headin' South. Oc- 
casionally he made a weak film like Arizona. Arizona was based on 
a serious play ill-suited to Fairbanks' style and personality. He injected 
some fine action and comedy moments into the opening and closing 
reels, but otherwise it was a generally stodgy, if handsomely mounted 

Fairbanks' Artcraft Westerns were some of the best action pictures 
ever made; they also were some of the most diverting, with their rollick- 
ing sense of fun, and the implicit demand made on the audience to take 
them any way but seriously. Among the most frequently used directors 
on these films were Victor Fleming, Allan Dwan, and Arthur Rosson, 
while William Wellman figured prominently in one of the best, The 
Knickerbocker Buckaroo. 

In 1918, while Mix was beginning to get star-billing at Fox, and 

Keith of the Border {1918), starring 
Roy Stewart. 

while Hart and Douglas Fairbanks were making some of their best films 
for Artcraft, the outlook for Westerns in general was far from bright. Few 
were being made and most of them were individual films, not part of 
any established series. Despite the success of the Hart and Mix films, the 
field apparently needed the stimulation of The Covered Wagon, five years 
later, to return Westerns generally to public favor. 

At Triangle, Roy Stewart had taken over as the studio's number one 
Western star. He was an acceptable replacement, but a poor substitute 
in acting ability and star quality for William S. Hart. Worth noting of 
Stewart's films are The Law's Outlaw and Faith Endurin', directed by 
Cliff Smith. 

As always in a period of decline, a number of "gimmicks" were intro- 
duced to add novelty. One of these was the wide-screen development of 

William Farrtum in the first version 
of The Spoilers (1914). 

the Paralta Company. A Man's Man, an action picture starring J. War- 
ren Kerrigan and directed by Oscar Apfel, used this innovation and ad- 
vertised it in the following way: "... compared with our wide screen, 
the old screen is like looking at part of the stage of a theatre through a 
square hole." An early sound system which had had some success 
in 1913 in a number of shorts made by Edison was now used again. In 
The Claim, directed by Frank Reicher for Metro Pictures Corp., Edith 
Storey sang "Annie Laurie." Apparently, synchronization for that par- 
ticular sequence was so complicated that most exhibitors preferred to 
run the film as a silent. 

A number of basically non-Western stars now ventured into the field 
for the first time. Harold Lockwood's first Western was The Avenging 
Trail, directed by Francis Ford; William Desmond at Triangle began to 
add Western roles to his usual characterization of the "romantic adven- 
turer." William Farnum, still remembered from The Spoilers, appeared 
in a number of outdoor pictures, among which were Rough and Ready, The 
Conqueror, and The Heart of a Lion. Franklyn Farnum also attracted a fol- 
lowing in Westerns like The Fighting Grin, a comedy shot in Arizona that 
leaned heavily on the Fairbanks format. 

A good percentage of the action series films made by the American 
Film Company and starring stolid William Russell contained Western 
themes. One of the Westerns directed by Henry King for that outfit, Six 
Feet Four was a curious forerunner of King's The Gunfighter in that it was 



William Desmond in Deuce 
Duncan (1918). 

Cecil B. DeMille directing Mary Pick- 
ford and Elliott Dexter in A Romance 
of the Redwoods, a solid and appeal- 
ing little Western, made before his 
"spectacle" career began in the early 

a Western almost without action or exteriors. The bulk of the film was 
shot indoors with the narration dependent on dialogue subtitles. It was 
very much of a misfire, but very interesting in the light of King's later 

Paramount, on the other hand, put romantic idol Wallace Reid into 
a number of Western subjects, among them Nan of Music Mountain. 
Essanay offered a version of Ruggles of Red Gap, Harry L. Wilson's story 
of the English butler suddenly introduced to the rigors of the West. 
First National kept the Indian hero prominent in films like The Sign 

With Westerns in limited production by independents, the bulk of the 
really top Westerns made in the years immediately preceding 1920 came 
from three notable sources. The first was, of course, Fox with the Tom 
Mix films, sold to the public on the basis of their adventurous stories and 
the daring stunts Mix provided. The second was Artcraft with the 
Douglas Fairbanks pictures, which were sold on similar lines, and the 
Hart films which were advertised quite differently. Trade papers carried 
announcements declaring: "William S. Hart pictures are always inspiring 
— they make folks breathe deeper," or, in publicizing The Narrow Trail: 
"Better a painted pony than a painted woman." The third source was 
Universal which made some first-class Western serials with Eddie Polo, 
Neal Hart, and other stars, good quality program Westerns such as The 
Wolf and His Mate, and most notable of all, those films combining the 
talents of star Harry Carey and director John Ford. 

John Ford had started in Universal's studios in 1917, using the name 
Jack Ford, and directing Carey in two-reelers. In The Scrapper, Ford not 
only wrote the colorful story, but also starred. The story as outlined in 


Moving Picture World of June 4, 1917, is as follows: "Buck the Scrapper 
loses his girl, who goes to the city when she is bored with the ranch. There, 
unemployed, she is innocently thrust into a house of questionable repute. 
When Buck and his friends bring a cargo of cattle to the city to sell, he 
is lured by a lady of the streets to the house and finds his girl there as she 
is being attacked. Buck fights her assailant, and takes the girl back to 
the West." 

Already, it seems, Ford thought nothing of presenting his Western 
hero as a man human enough to be lured into a bordello. With his first 
feature, Ford scored an instant success. The film was Straight Shootin', 

with Hoot Gibson supporting Harry Carey. This time Moving Picture 109 

World commented: "... a cleancut, straightforward tale. Both the 
author and the director are to be congratulated upon having selected 
compelling scenes and situations for the production. The Western 
panorama is set forth in clear, attractive photography and the riding 
and fighting episodes are enacted with dash and enthusiasm. So success- 
ful is the offering that it deserves to rank with The Virginian and Whis- 
pering Smith." 

The Secret Man, Bucking Broadway, Phantom Riders, and Hill Billy further 
enhanced Ford's reputation. Wild Women (1918) was something of an 
excursion into the Fairbanks mold. As the synopsis put it: "No rarebit 
fiend dream was ever half so vivid as the visions that follow the imbib- 
ing of too many Honolulu cocktails. Cheyenne Harry and his ranchers 
drink freely after winning the rodeo, and wild dreams of shanghaiing 
and the South Seas follow." 

Ford was happy making Westerns, and for the time being continued 
to make nothing else. A Fight for Love was a large-scale Western dealing 
with the efforts of the Canadian Mounties to stamp out whiskey run- 
ning to the Indians; Bare Fists was a sentimental drama, somewhat in 
the W S. Hart vein. Then, in 1919, came The Outcasts of Poker Flat 
based on Bret Harte's story. Photoplay commented: "Two remarkable 
things are Harry Carey's rise to real acting power, and director Ford's 
marvellous river locations and absolutely incomparable photography. 
This photoplay is an optic symphony." Ford, as can be seen, was already 
going out of his way to secure fine locations. Ace of the Saddle, his next, 
was photographed in the picturesque Rio Grande Valley. 

In only two years, John Ford made some twenty horse operas and 
established himself as the foremost director of Western dramas, with the 
possible exception of the quite different William S. Hart. The Iron Horse, 
a very substantial achievement, was now only four years away; with it 
would come new discussion concerning the truth of the old West, and it 
would further implement the saga of the frontier as explored on the screen. 



''They went with axe and rifle, 
When the trail was still to blaze, 
They went with wife and children, 
In the prairie-schooner days, 
With banjo and with frying pan — 
Suzanna, don't you cry! 
For I'm off to California, 
To get rich out there or die.'" 
Stephen vincent benet, Western Wago 

James Cruze's Tht 

lovered Wagon 
[ohn Ford's 
r he Iron Horse 

In 1923 Westerns were generally out of 
favor, at their lowest point since the pre- 
Hart days of 1913. Hart was faltering and 
the films of Tom Mix were the only ones 
that carried any weight at the box office. 
Lesser Western stars such as Roy Stewart 
had failed to attract the attention of any of 
the more important directors and, save for 
a few good isolated program features, e.g. 
Griffith's Scarlet Days, King Vidor's Sky 
Pilot, the non-series Westerns were generally 

But 1923 was also the year of The Covered 
Wagon, whose importance as a major event 
in Western movie history cannot be stressed 
too strongly. The first genuinely epic West- 
ern and, incidentally, the first American 
epic not directed by David W. Griffith, it 
gave a tremendous boost to the Western 
genre now in its twentieth year. Only fifty 
Westerns were made in 1923, but the success 
of James Cruze's film was such that the 
following year saw the number had almost 
tripled. Until the elimination of "B" West- 
erns in the mid-Fifties, the annual Western 
output never fell below that figure again, 
and usually exceeded it. 

Although numerous imitations over the 
years have made The Covered Wagon appear 
to be quite commonplace (its importance is 
perhaps a little overrated, since the film 
seems slow and pedestrian, often crudely 
faked), its effect then proved startling. Its 
plot — a wagon trek to California, with vil- 
lainy and romance added to round out the 


story — was extremely simple. What amazed the public was the film's 
sheer size and splendor, and the revelation that a Western could achieve 
the epic stature. 

Most impressive was the magnificent photography, the work of Karl 
Brown, formerly an assistant cameraman with Griffith, and later the 
director of such notable films as Stark Love. Vast panoramas of the long 
wagon trains winding across the plains, the impressive scope of such 
episodes as the Indian attack, the fording of the river, and the buffalo 
hunt — all these convinced movie audiences that the first twenty years of 
Westerns had but scratched the surface of the magnificent potential of 
I on the outdoor film. The sudden success of the film seemed, rather unfairly, 

to eclipse the notable earlier work of Hart, Griffith, and Ince, for the 
the western implication was that now, at last, The Covered Wagon had brought real 

maturity to the Western. 

Certainly, The Covered Wagon is a film of major importance. It was the 
first epic Western and it acted as a powerful stimulant to the faltering 
Western field. But because it was such an influential film, the legend 
seems to have sprung up that it was also a great film. 

In actual fact, The Covered Wagon was, its photography apart, of negli- 
gible creative value. Like so many Paramount films of that period, it 
lacked real plot. Paramount's policy at that time seemed to concentrate 
on quantity to the exclusion of other considerations. One Wallace Reid 
or Mary Miles Minter program feature followed the other with fright- 
ening rapidity. The production values were slight, the script values often 
mediocre. It should be remembered that Rudolph Valentino's dispute 
with Paramount was over being pushed into products of this type. 

It is no coincidence, therefore, that Paramount had fewer important 
pictures, in the aesthetic sense, in this period than any other studio, or 
that Paramount's best films were those which had a "plus" factor in the 
scripts, films like the two Brenon-Bronson films, Peter Pan and A Kiss for 
Cinderella, based on James Barrie's plays. 

In The Covered Wagon, admittedly, theme is more important than plot. 
Also, James Cruze was on his own once the film got under way; but the 
assembly-line writing and the overall Paramount attitude were part of 
the script well before the cameras rolled, and could not be altogether re- 
moved by Cruze. Cruze, in any case, was not a really creative director, 
but rather a highly competent man who was less likely to compromise 
than most. 

The basic weakness of The Covered Wagon lies in its script, which is more 
apt for a "B" picture than for an epic. The theme of the wagon trek to 
California admittedly remained foremost in the film, of more importance 

than the personal difficulties of hero and heroine, but it was not handled 
in the heroic sense of Ford's building of the railroad a year later. We are 
never told just why the trek is taking place, or exactly what is to come 
from it. The impression is created that this is an enterprising group of 
farmers, seeking to better themselves, and willing to risk danger and hard- 
ship to find a haven in Oregon and California. But lacking is the vital, 
dramatic sense of the opening up of new frontiers, the carving of an em- 
pire from the wilderness, the bitter struggle against nature's elements. 
There is little sense even of the period, except for the dates provided by 
the film's subtitles, and casual references to Brigham Young, the Mormon 
leader, and Abraham Lincoln, references that in themselves are unneces- 
sary and seem inserted to "authenticate" the background. Nor is the 
cinematic reconstruction of the period helped by the relative significance 
of the film's incidents: a conventional fight between hero and villain is 
given far more prominence than an event like the discovery of gold in 
California, which is treated in a completely offhand manner. 

The panoramic scenes of the wagon train, the near-documentary 
scenes of a river-crossing, of campfire singing, of a burial followed by a 
birth (today this seems too facile, but regarded in context and period it 
was an effective and original touch), of the hazards of snow and mud 
... all this is set off by an orthodox account of a somewhat ludicrously 
idealized hero (J. Warren Kerrigan), and a heroine (Lois Wilson) who 
loves him, loses him through misunderstandings fomented by the villain, 
and ultimately wins him in a traditional studio formula ending! 



The arrival at the promised land: The Covered Wagon (1923). 

Another detracting factor was the role of the villain played by Alan 
Hale. The role was well acted, but written unsubtly, in a completely 
black vein. Here was a villain without a single redeeming feature. In 
general, then, two elements, near-documentary originality and strictly 
formula writing, are constantly at odds with each other in The Covered 


A potentially exciting sequence 
staged in an unexciting manner; 
Cruze shoots the runaway horse 
episode from The Covered 
Wagon in a single uninterrupted 
long shot. 

Wagon, preventing unity. The production, too, is stolidly paced (perhaps 
deliberately, to stress the monotony of the trek) and surprisingly 

The big action sequences suffer occasionally from unimaginative in- 
clusions which strike a false note. For example, the buffalo hunt is marred 
by patently false studio-shot riding close-ups in which the actor clearly 
is doing nothing more than bouncing up and down in front of a cyclo- 
rama; if no running inserts shot on location were available, certainly none 
at all would have been preferable to a piece of obvious fakery. And the 
Indian fight itself (discussed more fully later) loses much of its punch 
when one considers the basic improbability of its circumstances: as 
William S. Hart pointed out, somewhat scornfully, no wagon boss would 
be stupid enough to court disaster by camping his train overnight in a 
blind canyon. 


One would like to be generous to The Covered Wagon because it could 
so easily have been a great film, as well as an important one. But if only 
for its superb Western vistas, impressive to this day, and for its fine sup- 
porting performances from Tully Marshall and Ernest Torrence (ideally 
cast as a couple of hard-drinking frontier scouts), The Covered Wagon is 
well worth seeing — and, of course, its influence on other film-makers 
was great. 

Surprisingly, it was almost accidental that the film emerged in the form 
we know. Initially Emerson Hough's novel had been purchased to be 
filmed as a vehicle for Mary Miles Minter. She ultimately balked at the 

prospect of a lengthy and uncomfortable trip on location, and contrived I35 

to have herself cast in another film scheduled to go before the cameras 
at the same time. Thus, the property, handed over to James Cruze, was 
cast with comparative unknowns (J. Warren Kerrigan, Lois Wilson, 
Ernest Torrence, Alan Hale) and a film quite different from the one in- 
itially planned was then mapped out. Cruze from the first was for shoot- 
ing the film away from the studio, and some of the locations he used are 
still among the most impressive to be seen in any Western film, partic- 
ularly those of Snake Valley in Nevada and Antelope Island in Great 
Salt Lake, the last the location for the buffalo hunt. 

To facilitate managing the hundreds of Indian extras employed in the 
production, Cruze had the services of Col. Tim McCoy, then an Indian 
agent for the government, a man who knew the Indian sign language 
fluently, and who subsequently escorted a party of Indians to England 
to appear at the film's premiere at the London Pavilion. One year later 
McCoy himself turned to acting and became one of the better Western 

In the wake of The Covered Wagon's enthusiastic reception, Cruze's rep- 
utation as a director grew, and four years later he became, at seven 
thousand dollars per week, the highest paid director in the world, while 
the box-office value of the actors who had appeared in the film rose con- 
siderably, as well. The film inspired a number of other films, quite logi- 
cally, and omitting mention of the many "B" imitations, three major 
epics were made as a result of Cruze's film, two of them made by Para- 
mount again. North of 36 (1924), a sequel to The Covered Wagon, directed 
by Irvin Willat, an old Ince man, offered Lois Wilson and Ernest 
Torrence in their original roles, with Jack Holt replacing Kerrigan to 
great advantage. The film had its success. 

Cruze's own follow-up, in 1925, was The Pony Express, a lavish affair 
with Ricardo Cortez, Wallace Beery, and Betty Compson (Mrs. Cruze) 
that was more or less ignored by the public; it had many of the faults of 

The Covered Wagon and few of its virtues. Apart from a well-staged Indian 
attack for its climax, there was little action and the film too often 
bogged down in romantic, political, and historical intrigue. Cruze's own 
respect for historical accuracy provided the film with a further weak- 
ness in that the villain, Jack Slade, played by George Bancroft, got away 
scot free despite a career of robbery and murder. Nevertheless, the film 
was vastly superior to the slow-moving 1953 version with Charlton 

Both North of 36 and The Pony Express occasioned little comment, and 
they are generally ignored by historians. Quite a different matter, how- 
iog ever, was the third epic film inspired by Cruze's work: The Iron Horse, 

directed for Fox in 1924 by John Ford, when he was twenty-nine and had 
the western already made nearly fifty films, thirty-nine of them Westerns which gave 

him a reputation as a shrewd director. He had always gone out of his 
way to secure first-class locations, his scripts were strong (sometimes in- 
corporating unusual elements of fantasy), and were written either by 
himself or by writers like Jules Furthman, later one of the most prolific 
of all screen writers, his credits to include the Jane Russell vehicle, The 

Prior to The Iron Horse, Ford's longest film had been the seven-reel 
Cameo Kirby with John Gilbert; and at two hours and forty minutes, The 
Iron Horse is still Ford's longest film and his only real epic. For the statis- 
tically minded, The Iron Horse contained 1280 separate scenes and 275 
subtitles! Ford was well schooled in the Western field and, loving West- 
erns, he obviously saw in The Iron Horse an opportunity to make a 
Western on a grand scale, and that is precisely what he did. 

Of course it was an enormous spectacle depicting an inspiring event 
in a nation's progress, but it was, in fact, an expansion of his earlier, less 
important Westerns — Hitchin' Posts, for example, which also contained 
elements of the epic with its spectacular sequences in the last reel of the 
Cherokee Strip land rush. In short, The Iron Horse was faster, much more 
exciting than The Covered Wagon, yet less of an event in film history. 

Perhaps because he was able to lavish so much care, time, and money 
on the type of film most dear to him, The Iron Horse has remained Ford's 
favorite — or at least it was in 1953 when he so stated in an interview. 
Although the veteran director has also gone on record as disliking cer- 
tain of his films that critics consider among his best, most specifically, 
They Were Expendable, it is significant that Ford should prefer The Iron 
Horse to the generally higher esteemed Stagecoach (1939). 

The cast of The Iron Horse was particularly interesting. For his star he 
selected George O'Brien, formerly an assistant cameraman with Tom 


Cameras prepare to shoot the fording of the river sequence for The Covered Wagon. 

Mix, a stunt man who was actually better known as the son of San 
Francisco's chief of police. He soon became one of the top Western stars 
in both the silent and sound eras, directing ten films, in addition, and 
starring in eight of them. 

In one of his subsequent films Ford introduced the team of George 
O'Brien, Janet Gaynor, and Margaret Livingston, who were used im- 
mediately afterwards by Murnau in his non- Western poetic masterpiece, 
Sunrise. Fred Kohler, who had been used by Ford earlier in North 
of Hudson Bay, and who was really missing three fingers as called for in 
the script, was also cast, and subsequently became one of the best-known 
Western villains of all time. George O'Brien's brother Jack had a promi- 
nent part, and Madge Bellamy made a good heroine. Such Ford reli- 
ables as J. Farrell MacDonald and Chief Big Tree were also featured, 
and George Wagner, who later became a leading writer-director, played 
Buffalo Bill. Charles Bull, cast as Lincoln, was actually no actor at all, 
but a Reno judge discovered by Ford. Francis Powers, one of the comic 
leads, was a playwright rather than an actor. The film's subtitles were 
written by Charles Danton, then dramatic editor of the New York World. 

Ford emulated Cruze by shooting his film almost entirely on location, 
in the Nevada desert. There was little or no studio work in the film; all 
of the cabin's interiors, for example, are authentic, with constant activity 



taking place outside the windows. Apart from an obviously painted back- 
drop of a canyon, there were no artificial sets at all. It was a monumental 
undertaking, since there were more than five thousand extras and it re- 
quired almost one hundred cooks to feed them all. 

The unit built two complete towns, used a train of fifty-six coaches for 
transportation, issued a daily newspaper, and in general lived under the 
same conditions as had the original workers on the railroad. The huge 
cast lists a complete regiment of U. S. Cavalry, three thousand railroad 
workers, one thousand Chinese laborers, eight hundred Pawnee, Sioux, 
and Cheyenne Indians, two thousand horses, thirteen hundred buffaloes, 
and ten thousand head of cattle, thus providing enough "accessories" 
for an authentic segment of life in the old West. 

Apart from the extensive use of outdoor locations, Ford followed few 
of the precedents set by Cruze and Griffith in their earlier epics. Cruze, 
for example, played down action sequences unless they were an essential 
part of the plot. In The Covered Wagon he used that old Western stand-by, 
the heroine's runaway horse, only as a means to an end, in this case, to 
increase the hatred between the hero and the villain. The actual busi- 
ness of the runaway was handled in a single long shot, and was over in 
a matter of seconds. Ford, on the other hand, passionately played every 
action sequence for all it was worth. 

The grandiose sequences of Indian fighting in both films illuminate 
the two directors' widely differing approaches to identical problems. 
Cruze's Indian battle was staged on a massive canvas, yet it was sharp, 
concise, and almost underplayed in a documentary manner. Once the 
camera shot a scene with a hundred charging Indians, Cruze was 
finished with them, and would move to something else. Ford, instead, 

Tim McCoy, not yet a player, 
was employed by director James 
Cruze to handle the tribes of 
Indians used in The Covered 
Wagon. Here McCoy looks on 
as Cruze presents a gift to one of 
the actors. 


deliberately constructed his action scenes so that they built steadily. His 
cameramen, George Schneidermann and Burnett Guffey, photographed 
the same charge from half-a-dozen different angles, with variety in the 
action. He intercut with other footage, and slipped away from the vast 
battle panorama on which hundreds of Indians were in the process of 
encircling the trapped locomotive (one of many of the finest and most 
exciting Indian fighting sequences ever filmed) to scenes of the rescue 
party in another locomotive, or to a detachment of Cavalry scouts gal- 
loping into the fray. 

Another notable aspect of Ford's battle scenes was his dynamic use of 
the moving camera. During the early Twenties the camera for the most 139 

part remained largely stationary; a too mobile camera was regarded with 
suspicion as an "arty" European trick. Throughout most of The Iron Horse, 
too, the camera is stationary, but during the action sequences Ford 
loaded it on trucks, to the front of the locomotive, shooting from the top 
of the train. This technique permitted the groups of galloping riders to 
come into the camera's range simultaneously, effectively capturing in 
this way the rhythm of the action. The fluidity of this kind of camera 
work, plus the breathtaking effects of brilliant editing raised these great 
battle scenes to a pitch of magnificent excitement quite denied those in 
The Covered Wagon. These scenes in themselves fully justified the use of 
the term "epic" in connection with The Iron Horse, a memorable film 

In other ways, however, it deviated rather surprisingly from epic 
tradition. The central theme of a man hunting his father's murderer was 
a common theme of the "B" Western (although it was also used in The 
Big Trail) and it frequently became more important than the construc- 
tion of the railroad itself. In addition, despite the historical framework, 
Ford seemed to play down the factual aspects of the story. Abraham 
Lincoln was unnecessarily written into the narrative, primarily for the 
satisfaction of producer William Fox, who for years had been deeply in- 
terested in Lincoln and whose plan to present a biography of the six- 
teenth President on the screen had been shattered by a similar film 
from a competitor. 

Unlike Griffith, who accompanied all his historical tableaux with sub- 
titles giving exact dates, places, and other information, Ford paid scant 
attention to the few historical events that he did recreate accurately. The 
famous track-laying race, which culminated in ten miles being laid in a 
single day, is presented without any reference to the fact that in 1924 it 
still constituted a record, and that, in the 1860's, Vice President Durant 
of the Union Pacific Railroad had bet ten thousand dollars that it could 

' !*» John Ford directs Indians, including Iron 

Eyes Cody, in The Iron Horse (1924). 

not be done. Yet Ford went out of his way to obtain authentic 
props, or at least so Fox's publicity agents claimed. The original trains 
"Jupiter" and "1 16" are shown in the final sequence, for example; Wild 
Bill Hickok's vest pocket Derringer gun was used, and so was — although 
this sounds rather too much like a publicity story — the original stage- 
coach used by Horace Greeley. Even George O'Brien's horse, Bullet, 
was selected because, having won the annual St. Louis-to-San Francisco 
Race, it held the title of "Champion Pony Express Horse." 

The Iron Horse still contains some of Ford's best and most typical work, 
despite the number and quality of some of his later works. Its weakest 
sections are its broad slapstick interludes, which represent the least suc- 
cessful ingredients in Ford's Westerns. There is little difference, for ex- 
ample, between the knockabout dentist sequence in The Iron Horse and 
the rough-house humor of The Searchers which he made in 1956. But 
photographically The Iron Horse is superb, with many shots now almost his 
trademark, the grouping of the Indians on the crest of a hill, for example, 
or the small band of riders fading into the dusty sunset. 

Though The Iron Horse did not duplicate the critical acclaim of The 
Covered Wagon, it enjoyed huge popular success in the United States, and 

it did earn the praise of governmental and educational bodies. One critic 
termed it "An American Odyssey," a description that someone has ap- 
plied to almost every Ford film since then, and in Ford's oeuvre, it cer- 
tainly represents an extremely important film to which he gave both his 
enthusiasm and dedication. 

The Iron Horse had run for a year at the Lyric in New York, Fox was 
still taking no chances, and it was sold using three different advertising 
campaigns. One followed the epic pattern, exploiting Erno Rapee's orig- 
inal music, "The March of the Iron Horse," then very popular. The 
second campaign — for the women presumably — spoke of a non-existent 
triangle and promised "Woman Against Woman In A Romance of 
East And West, Blazing The Trail Of Love And Civilization." The 
third approach was to concentrate on O'Brien, then being built into a 
top box-office name. "The George O'Brien Smile Is Spreading The 
Spirit Of Happiness Over The Seven Seas," claimed one advertisement, 
while another offered: "He's Not A Sheik Or A Caveman Or A Lounge 
Lizard — He Is A Man's Man And An Idol Of Women." 

In any event, with O'Brien, the music, and the full-length novel 
based on the film (not vice versa) to exploit, the film went on to 
top business in the United States, but inexplicably failed in Great 
Britain. Paul Rotha, the British critic, once attempted to explain this 
by claiming that the British had no sympathy for railroads being con- 



The track-laying race in The 
Iron Horse. 

structed across trackless wastes. To generalize, then, while in many ways 
a more interesting and certainly a more exciting film, The Iron Horse was 
less objective than The Covered Wagon and initially was less influential. 

Cruze's film was imitated over and over again until the silent era 
ended, particularly in Paramount's Zane Grey Westerns; even then its 
influence continued, right through such sound films as The Big Trail, Kit 
Carson, California (a particularly loose remake of The Covered Wagon), and 
John Ford's The Wagonmaster. There were, of course, inherent technical 
problems to duplicating The Iron Horse. And yet, odd scenes in Russia's 
documentary Turksib and Great Britain's The Great Barrier (dealing with 
j 42 the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad) suggested that many 

of Ford's ideas had been noticed and appreciated. 
the western Turksib, written and directed by Victor Turin, often had a special 

similarity visually, in panoramic scenes stressing the immensity of the 
open wilderness, and comparing it with the seemingly small locomotive 
challenging its right to remain a wilderness. And, as in The Iron Horse, 
Turksib's climax was a race against time to finish the road. The cutting, 
however, was far more studied and complex than it had been in Ford's 
film. Ford's final race to complete the track in time was dramatic and 
convincing, but it was so much a foregone conclusion that the deadline 
would be met, that it did not generate the desired excitement. Victor 
Turin, in Turksib, made his climactic race the highlight of the film, 
a rapidly cut montage in which dramatically brief subtitles were as im- 
portant as the images into which they were so skillfully cut. 

This form of editing, often done to excess in Russian films merely be- 
cause it was expected from a school that had been evolved by Eisenstein 
and Pudovkin, enabled the climax of Turksib to transcend completely 
the more immediate problem of the railroad's construction. The dramatic 
shots of the train almost jubilantly racing through the wilds towards 
its nearing destination, accompanied by such titles as "The line MUST 
be completed!" were stirring, and the audience must have felt itself 
called to serve the cause of national progress of every kind. So effective was 
this final sequence from several viewpoints that the film's final title, "And 
in 1930 the line was completed" (actually added after the completion of 
the railroad) seemed weak and anti-climatic. 

American epics, and particularly those built around railroads 
such as The Iron Horse and Union Pacific, have come to far less 
dramatically satisfying conclusions because they failed — even in the war 
years — to recognize a certain inherent dramatic potential; they did not 
draw on the nation's pride — and epics are peculiarly able to do this. Both 
The Iron Horse and Union Pacific made the same mistake of treating the 

material purely historically, as a fait accompli. They approached the 
theme of national development as though the ultimate in progress had 
already been achieved. They looked back, respectfully, at the pioneers 
who had helped to bring that "ultimate" into being, but they did not 
see the continuing need for the pioneering spirit. There were traces of 
such a recognition — that this spirit could still usefully exist in contem- 
porary America — in an occasional film like King Vidor's Our Daily 
Bread, but unfortunately never in the Western, the genre most suited for 
an exposition along these lines. 

Strangely, as the influence of The Covered Wagon began to wane in the 
late Thirties, that of The Iron Horse grew. De Mille's Union Pacific (1939), I43 

dealing with the construction of the same railroad, not only used a 
vaguely similar plot, but repeated many sequences intact. One episode, 
an Indian attack on a supply train, even duplicated the composition and 
camera work of Ford's film. 

In more recent times, the wagon train theme has not proven popular, 
while that of the railroad has gained in importance. Kansas Pacific, Santa 
Fe, Canadian Pacific, The Denver and Rio Grande are among the films which 
utilized scenes or sequences originating in The Iron Horse. There have 
been many better Westerns than The Covered Wagon and The Iron Horse, 
but none that were more influential on the whole structure of thought 
concerning the creative cinematic presentation of these and related 
aspects of the saga of the West. 


The Twenties 

During these years it was 
only the lowly Western, made outdoors 
in natural surroundings by 
force of restricted budgets as well 
as story necessity, that kept alive 
a tradition of using real 
backgrounds and props and some simple, 


Despite the tremendous success and influence 
of The Covered Wagon and The Iron Horse, the 
immediate result was not a cycle of epics. 
Ford waited two years before he made his 
next large-scale Western, Three Bad Men. 
Based on Herman Whittaker's novel Over 
the Border (it is often erroneously confused 
with Peter B. Kyne's Three Godfathers, a story 
that has been filmed several times), it was a 
sentimental Western distinguished by a 
magnificently staged land rush sequence. 

Harrison's Reports, a trade publication, 
noted at the time ". . . from a production 
point of view, 'Three Bad Men' comes up 
to the standard of 'The Covered Wagon'; in 
some respects it even surpasses it. In the 
history of the picture business, in fact, there 
has never been a picture in which such an 
array of prairie schooners has been used." 
Harrison's Reports was a publication for ex- 
hibitors with only two functions: it editori- 
alized against unfair producer-distributor 
tactics, and it provided the exhibitor with 
detailed descriptions of film plots and, to a 
lesser degree, merits. It is invaluable as a ref- 
erence in terms of plot material; less reliable 
for its critical opinions, since, in order to be 
impartial, it had several reviewers turn in 
opinions which were then welded into one 
review by a writer who had not seen the film. 

However, Three Bad Men had many of the 
flaws of dramatic construction that marred 
The Iron Horse, and it did not repeat its suc- 
cess. Apart from The Pony Express, James 
Cruze made no further Western epics. The 



other prestige directors of the time — D. W. Griffith, King Vidor, Cecil 
B. De Mille — showed no apparent interest in tackling Western themes. 
As we shall see, the newly popularized epic Western made little head- 
way in terms of quantity production, but did serve to stimulate a tre- 
mendous upsurge in both the quality and quantity of "B" Westerns. 



The assembly line begins 

Prior to The Covered Wagon, the average "B" Western had been influenced 
more by W. S. Hart than by Tom Mix. This was partially due to the 
fact that it was easier to copy a style, such as Hart's austerity, than 
a man of the personality and prowess of Mix. Thus, even little Westerns 
like Ay won 's Another Man's Boots (1922) were patent copies of Hart; 
Another Man's Boots, in particular, seemed a blatant plagiarism of Hart's 
Square Deal Sanderson of a year or two earlier. The plot was lifted intact 
from the Hart film, and star Francis Ford closely followed Hart's acting 
style, with its reliance on facial close-ups in scenes involving the hero's 
romantic suffering at the hands of the heroine. A minor comic vein, 
pitched to reflect contemporary American viewpoints (there was a bar- 
room gag kidding prohibition; another on the trend of thought that a 
man's wearing of a wristwatch was a sign of effeminacy) alleviated the 
austerity of Another Man's Boots, and differentiated it from Hart's film. 
Another Man's Boots was a well-made little Western, but typical of so many 
"B" Westerns prior to The Covered Wagon — cheaply made, and resigned 
to the proposition that the "B" Western was and always would be mired 
in a fairly unimportant rut. 

With the Western so much back in favor after the success of The 
Covered Wagon, and apart from the general "streamlining" of smaller 
Westerns and the granting of slightly higher budgets to them, the next 
event in the history of Western movies was the development of a whole 
new crop of Western stars, some of whom, like Hoot Gibson, were 
promoted from two-reelers. Gibson's short Westerns for Universal had 

Ken Maynard menaced by that familiar heavy, 
Charles King, in Between Fighting Men. 

been of a "folksy" variety not unlike the old Mix shorts for Selig. How- 
ever, they were much more carefully made and, though limited in action, 
were lightheartedly humorous. Gibson was quite able to take care of any 
action that came his way, and the format he created in his shorts was 
so successful that, for the most part, he retained it in his features. Other 
stars, like Ken Maynard and Bob Steele, were launched with less back- 
ground training into starring vehicles. Maynard had made an impression 
as Paul Revere in the Marion Davies production Janice Meredith, and he 
was immediately thereafter signed for a series of independent Westerns. 
Steele, the son of director Robert N. Bradbury, appeared in his father's 
picture, With Sitting Bull at the Spirit Lake Massacre, under the name of 
Bob Bradbury, Jr., and soon thereafter was given his own series at FBO. 
A dozen other Western stars emerged in this period, from Tom Tyler to 
Jack Perrin; the latter, a former Triangle and Sennett extra, had 
appeared in straight dramatic roles in Erich von Stroheim's Blind Hus- 
bands and other pictures, making little impression until he began mak- 
ing Westerns. He and other stars of the period will be considered later 
in the chapter at greater length. 

It should be remembered that in the Twenties the double-bill was 
virtually unknown, and therefore even the "B" Western, supported only 
by a comedy short and the newsreel, had to draw an audience. Initially, 
at least, this sudden increase in the production of small Westerns estab- 
lished and maintained a surprisingly high standard, but as their mass 
production continued, and increased, the inevitable decline set in. This 
decline was brought about not by a decline in the quality of films made 
by the major companies — for MGM and First National in particular 
brought real production value and creativity to their Westerns — but by 
the entry into the field of hordes of opportunistic independent producers 
working with meager budgets and generally second-rate talent. 

The Weiss Brothers fell into this category. Through their Artclass 
productions, they offered Buddy Roosevelt, Wally Wales, and Buffalo 
Bill, Jr., in eight Westerns apiece. The Weiss Brothers had already then 
developed to a fine art the business of making films with the least pos- 
sible outlay; as recently as 1945 they issued a "new" film called The White 
Gorilla, which was literally eighty percent stock shots from a silent serial, 
Perils of the Jungle. 

Another independent, Anchor Distributors, offered Al Hoxie in eight 
of the cheapest and worst Westerns ever made, The Ace of Clubs setting 
some kind of record for pointless boredom, and eight more with Bob 
Reeves. Hoxie and Reeves achieved little stature even in this short 
period, and were quickly forgotten. 




Supplementing their eight Ken Maynard films, the Davis Corporation 
made eight with Ben Wilson and Neva Gerber, a once-popular serial 
team that had fallen from favor, and no less than fifteen Westerns per 
year with Al Ferguson, an unattractive-looking fellow who normally 
specialized in villains' roles. Sierra Pictures presented a series of six 
Westerns with Al Richmond, six with Bob Burns, and six two-reelers with 
Fred Hawk, while a group of two-reel Westerns — these with a comic edge 
— starred Bill Patton and were directed by Al Herman for the Tennek 
Film Corporation. But that was not all: Ruth Mix, Tom's daughter, 
billed as "A Chip Off The Old Block," much t^ Tom's annoyance, 
1 40 made a group of cowgirl Westerns that tried to recapture atmosphere 

of the early Mix films by stressing elaborate stunt work and trick riding. 
From her first film, That Girl Oklahoma, Ruth Mix went on to a lively, 
if not spectacular career that lasted some ten years. Two lesser figures, 
Art Mix (a very distant relation of Tom's) and Bill Mix (no relation at 
all), dressed like the original and were billed as his brothers until the 
courts forced them to desist; neither of them made much of an impression 
on Western audiences, and Art Mix, a very short man, with a most un- 
heroic appearance, soon drifted into villains' roles. Bill Cody Westerns 
were released through Pathe; FBO launched Buzz Barton, a child star, 
as a novelty Western star along with their other featured players who, 
at one time or another in the Twenties, included Bob Steele, Tom Tyler 
(teamed with Frankie Darro), Tom Mix, Fred Thomson, and Bob 
Custer. Rayart, forerunner of Monogram, had producer Harry Webb 
turning out Jack Perrin Westerns like clockwork, and supplemented 
these by a lesser series starring Pawnee Bill, Jr., and the Rayart Rough 
■ Riders. 

Slightly better were a group of alleged historical Westerns produced 
by Anthony J. Xydias for Sunset Productions: With Buffalo Bill on the U. 
P. Trail, With Custer at the Little Big Horn, With Sitting Bull at the Spirit 
Lake Massacre. They were competent in their way, but fell far short of 
their potential. Strong casts (Roy Stewart, Edmund Cobb, Bryant 
Washburn, William Desmond), good camera work, and interesting plots 
had the audience anxiously awaiting large-scale climaxes, the kind not 
available in a stock-shot library, but small budgets ruled out any effec- 
tive alternative, and so the grand climaxes never materialized. The 
long-awaited massacre in With Sitting Bull at the Spirit Lake Massacre 
consists of a handful of Indians running into the attack; Bob Steele rides 
to a cavalry outpost to bring back the troops for a pitched battle only 
to be told by a lone sentry that all the troops left that morning! The film 
grinds to a frustrating close, with the hero realizing that nothing can be 

Harry Carey, who starred in Westerns from 
1910 to the late Thirties and then switched to 
character roles. 

done to prevent the massacre; contentedly riding away with the heroine, 
he thoughtfully removed from the Spirit Lake environs before the 
Indians attacked. 

Pete Morrison, William Fairbanks, Neal Hart, Guinn "Big Boy" 
Williams, Yakima Canutt, and Earle Douglas were others who appeared 
in these cheaply made Westerns for Sunset, Anchor, and similar com- 
panies. Few of these small outfits had sufficient means to own their own 
branch offices, or exchanges, and there were no national distribution out- 
lets for the bulk of these products made on the assembly line. 

In the midst of such frenetic activity, with Hollywood firmly estab- 
lished as a production center and with the advent of the star system, some 
of the old "heroes" of the West remained in their saddles, but many new 
ones had already arrived and more were to come. 

Harry Carey and Buck Jones 

With the failure of Hart's Singer Jim McKee, upcoming Western stars were 
naturally no longer anxious to imitate either Hart's style or the content 
of his stories. Breezy, energetic Tom Mix, the very antithesis of Hart, ex- 
erted the greatest influence, but by now even he was a veteran; rather 
than go in for outright imitation, most stars tended therefore to elaborate 
on the Mix concept of the Western hero. 

Thus, the slick, "streamlined" Westerner, immaculately groomed and 
flashily dressed, began to take over, and the "new look" was best repre- 
sented by Hoot Gibson and Ken Maynard, both first-rate "performers" 
(although Maynard was an indifferent actor). Both could fight and ride 
which was essential in their roles, but they were predominantly show- 
men. Neither had any great love for the Western as such, nor any desire 
to be particularly creative. The breathtaking but flamboyant and often 
unnecessary trick riding stunts in Maynard's films, and the prominent 
comedy content of Gibson's, were two steps which advanced the divorce 
of the Western from actuality. Only two Western stars remained in any 


way in the Hart tradition: Harry Carey and Buck Jones. In actual fact, 
Carey's taciturn characterization predates Hart's in that he was active 
in early Biograph Westerns for Griffith. Perhaps partly because his 
leathery and non-youthful appearance so dictated, Carey avoided the 
"streamlined" Westerns that Maynard, Gibson, and Fred Thomson 
made so popular. His were always Westerns of the old school, sometimes a 
little slow on action, but always strong on plot, with a definite sign of 
Hart's influence. Carey's Satan Town, for example, was a very creditable 
lesser Hell's Hinges. Respect for womanhood was a staple ingredient 
with Carey, and in The Prairie Pirate, a good Carey film for Hunt 
icQ Stromberg in 1925, this extended to another typical Hart plot moti- 

vation — the death of the hero's sister (she commits suicide when threat- 
ened with rape by the villain) and the tracking down of the man 
responsible. Both Hart and Carey had almost Victorian streaks con- 
cerning their heroines, who were always shown as symbols of helpless- 
ness and purity, to be protected and loved only remotely, until events 
had proven the heroes thoroughly worthy of them. Carey's pictures 
were certainly stronger in story content than those of his contemporaries, 
but significantly he was never as popular as either Ken Maynard or Hoot 

Buck Jones somewhat resembled Hart in both facial characteristics 
and in his realistic dress, but there the similarity ended. Fox used him 
in a series designed as a second-string group to reflect the formats laid 
down by the fabulously successful Mix Westerns. "Second-string" in 
this instance does not mean second-rate, for the Jones Westerns were 
good ones, backed by solid production values, although more concerned 
with showmanship and lively action than with creating a realistic pic- 
ture of the West. Only in his personal performance, underplayed and 
rugged, and in his clothing, far less gaudy and flamboyant than the 
outfits worn by Mix, did Jones follow the Hart line. As in the Mix films, 
the Jones Westerns were split evenly between straightforward action 
pictures and light Westerns with a marked comic content. He seems to 
have been impressed with comedy's value, for, Hoot Gibson apart, he 
was the only Western star to really stress comedy featuring himself rather 
than the "official" comedian who afflicted so many "B" Westerns. The 
comic content in Jones' Fox Westerns of the Twenties was generally on 
a fairly high level, but in the Thirties Jones injected a surprising amount 
of "hick" comedy into his pictures. However, even this was used with 
some discretion, and it never interfered with plot or action. 

Typical of the Jones films with a pronounced comic content were The 
Gentle Cyclone, directed in 1926 by W S. Van Dyke, with Buck acting as 

mediator between the heroine's two perennially scrapping uncles, and 
The Cowboy and the Countess, made in the same year. This last film opened 
on a luxury liner with Jones and his Western cohorts en route to Europe. 
Of course, there was a good deal of comedy built around the situation of 
the Western cowboy in high society; one of the best gags had the West- 
erners puzzled by the liner's menu. Unable to understand the foreign 
language, they were forced to draw pictures to describe what they 
wanted to eat. Much of the action took place in Europe, with the 
heroine's father attempting to marry her off to a rascally nobleman to 
whom he has financial obligations. 

Along far more traditional lines and full of first-rate riding and other j^j 

stunts by Jones were Good as Gold, directed in 1925 by Scott R. Dunlap, 

and Timber Wolf, set in a lumber camp. Jones is a fighting lumber boss THE twenties 

who forcibly abducts the heroine to prevent her from marrying the vil- 
lain, who is both the proprietor of the local dance hall and a bootlegger. 
His intention, of course, is first to "tame" her and then to marry her. 

Despite the tradition of the Western hero as a man who naturally re- 
spects womanhood, the theme of the heroine's forcible abduction by the 
hero, and his "taming" of her, was quite popular in the Twenties. Its 
watered-down remnants persisted until the Thirties, but its implications 
varied. The moral difficulties were overcome by having the hero 
appointed either the heroine's guardian or the custodian of her estate. 
Conflict then had a legal basis, as he sought to prevent her from selling 
the ranch, or refused her permission to marry the villain. In these cases, 
sympathy was very much on the side of the hero, since the heroine was 
invariably presented as a headstrong heiress who very much needed 

Fred Thomson 

After Mix, Fred Thomson was possibly the most popular Western star 
of the Twenties. He was well liked not only because his films maintained 
high standards, but also because his blameless off-screen life and his rep- 
utation as a former minister earned him the respect and support of even 
those moviegoers apathetic to Westerns at a time when Hollywood's 
morals were constantly under fire. He was a first-rate acrobat, and his 
slick films for FBO were little more than Western equivalents of the stunt- 
ing adventures made by Richard Talmadge for the same company. 
These Westerns were lively, full of fun and action quite obviously de- 
signed to please the youngsters; many, such as A Regular Scout in which 
Thomson boosted the cause of the Boy Scouts, had a definitely salutary 

effect on American youth. The Tough Guy, in addition to its strong action, 
contained some good comedy in a children's orphanage. The Bandit's 
Baby, made in 1925, again had some unusual comic elements, including 
a proposal scene quite distinct from the usual shamefaced marriage pro- 
posals made by most Western heroes. Referring to the heroine's infant 
brother, Thomson remarks: "Gosh, Esther, I don't want to get hitched 
up, but I'll do anything to get that baby"; to which the heroine replies, 
"All right, Tom, I'll do anything to get that horse." 

In another Thomson Western of the same period, Silver Comes Through, 

Buck Jones and Silver. 

Fred Thomson, Helen Foster, and baby Mary Louise 
Miller in The Bandit's Baby (1925). 

there is another effective blending of sentiment, comedy, and thrills. 
The opening reel finds Thomson fighting and subduing a mountain lion 
to rescue a little white foal which, of course, grows up to be Silver King, 
Thomson's white horse. The climactic thrill is provided by a cross- 
country race; the villains kidnap Thomson and his horse, but they both 

escape by making a spectacular leap from a moving freight train, and 
return to win the race on schedule. Tremendously exciting and well 
made though they were, logic and conviction were frequently abandoned 
in these films. Thundering Hoofs, for instance, contained one of the most 
"epochal" moments in any Western. The sagacious Silver King has just 
found the body of the hero's father; a title informs us that "Silver King 
had one last duty to perform," and then fades into a beautifully back- 
lit scene of the stallion reverently tapping the top of an immaculately 
constructed grave. Not only does it have a neat cross at its head, but a 
jar of flowers as well . . . and the implication certainly is that Silver King 
did it all himself! Thundering Hoofs also had a humorous sequence in the 
style of Douglas Fairbanks: Thomson, calling on the heroine, is pursued 
over the hacienda by an irate father and jealous suitor, and escapes by 
swinging from chandeliers, hanging on vines, climbing up walls, and the 



Fred Thomson and Ann May in Thunder- 
ing Hoofs {1924). 

A chase across rooftops was a Ken May- 
nard film specialty. From The Wagon 
Show (1928). 

like. The rest of the film was up to the high standards of action in 
Thomson's Westerns, with a beautifully cut and photographed runaway 
stagecoach episode, and a fine climax in which Fred, jailed by the vil- 
lain, makes a spectacular escape, finds his way to the bullring, and ar- 
rives just in time to battle a bull with his bare hands to save Silver King 
from being gored to death. 

Thomson's FBO Westerns were all beautifully mounted films, expertly 
staged, and excellently photographed. Many of the scripts were by 
Marion Jackson, who was married to Thomson. Following his FBO 
period, Thomson moved to Paramount to make some large Westerns 
i ci presumably intended to replace those of Bill Hart. Jesse James, directed 

by Lloyd Ingraham, whitewashed the old outlaw even more than did 
the western the Tyrone Power version of 1939; no bank robberies of any kind are 

shown, and in fact the only crime that Jesse commits in the entire film 
is a mild stagecoach holdup! Undoubtedly, the film was intended more 
as a Thomson vehicle than as an authentic historical Western, and yet, 
it had its fine moments, particularly several spectacular Civil War bat- 
tle scenes early on in the film. It was the first Thomson Western in which 
he died at the end, and ironically, it was to be his last film. He died 
shortly afterwards, at the end of the silent era. 

Ken Maynard 

Ken Maynard's rise to popularity roughly paralleled Thomson's. 
After his debut in Janice Meredith, Maynard made a series of cheap 
Westerns for the Davis Corporation, films like The Grey Vulture. These 
were inexpensive but entertaining, with plenty of stunting action for 
Maynard, and a tendency to rather bizarre comedy. One film opened 
with a long sequence in which Maynard dreamed that he was one of 
King Arthur's knights; another had a long "bathing beauty" interlude. 
These films were later reassembled into a none-too-cohesive serial entitled 
The Range Fighter. Maynard really came into his own, however, upon 
joining First National in 1926. He was put into a quality series begin- 
ning with Senor Daredevil. By no means "B" pictures, these were seven- 
reelers, and often spectacular in their action content. As Harrison's Re- 
ports commented, in reviewing Senor Daredevil: "If the subsequent 
Westerns which First National has announced with this star will con- 
tain only one-half the entertainment that 'Senor Daredevil' possesses, 
those who buy them will have nothing to worry about ... it is an ex- 
ceptionally good Western . . . has a story that is entirely different from 
those seen in the past . . . thrills aplenty . . . Mr. Maynard is a wonder- 
ful rider who displays his horsemanship frequently." 

Senor Daredevil had for its climax a spectacular sequence of Maynard 
racing a food convoy of wagons to a town starved and besieged by vil- 
lains. One or two critics compared this sequence with the chariot race 
in Ben Hur for the excitement it generated, and this is not hard to 
believe; although this particular Western is not now available for reap- 
praisal, other First National Maynard films are, and The Red Raiders, in 
particular, confirms that the praise for Senor Daredevil was probably more 
than justified. 

Directed by Al Rogell and produced under the supervision of Harry 
Joe Brown (who later teamed with Randoph Scott on a number of 

Westerns in the Forties and Fifties), The Red Raiders is a particularly I55 

illuminating example of the really slick and well-made Westerns of the 

Twenties. Aside from consideration of the stars involved, The Red Raiders THE TV 

is quite as big a picture as Stagecoach and other epics. The action is staged 
on a massive scale, and the entire picture seems dedicated to the propo- 
sition that action matters far more than plot. (This was not typical of 
Maynard's First National group, which was usually strong in the scenario 
department, too.) Indeed, there really is no plot to The Red Raiders, 
merely a situation (Indians being led on the warpath by a hotheaded 
chief dedicated to wiping out the cavalry), and no real villainy. The film 
has no white "heavies" and the Indians are presented merely collec- 
tively as the motivated villains of the piece, although they are presented 
sympathetically and as human beings, a comparatively rare note in the 
Twenties, midway between Ince's The Heart of an Indian and Daves' 
Broken Arrow. The subtitles, incidentally, present several little footnotes 
to Indian lore, and introduce one of the Indian players as White Man- 
Runs Him, last surviving participant in the Little Big Horn battle. 

The Red Raiders is both a showcase for Ken Maynard's amazing riding 
skill, and for the use of the running insert. Few Westerns have used the 
riding close-up as consistently — and as dramatically — as did this picture, 
and its effectiveness is doubly apparent when The Red Raiders is contrasted 
with such other silent Westerns as Another Man's Boots, or such "talkies" 
as Man from the Black Hills, in which not a single running insert is used. 
The camera work on The Red Raiders was that of Sol Polito (later one 
of Warners' top cameramen on Errol Flynn and Bette Davis sound films); 
the running inserts were shot from a camera car sometimes carrying as 
many as four Bell and Howell or Mitchell cameras. As well as being 
used for really close work (Maynard's riding, and one tricky stunt in par- 
ticular where a wounded man is being dragged in the dust by his gal- 
loping horse, and Maynard, hanging precariously backwards out of his 
own saddle, swooping the man up — this being shot in such extreme 
close-up that the shadow of the cameraman was visible briefly) the run- 

Hoot Gibson, 
comedy and modern story lines in 
his very popular Universal West- 
erns of the Twenties. 

ning inserts were used to tremendously dramatic and spectacular effect 
in long, panoramic shots of the large-scaled action. The Indians charg- 
ing, and a mad stampede of covered wagons, were rendered all the 
more exciting by the camera's extreme mobility. One of the most effec- 
tive shots was an extreme long shot of the troop of cavalry appearing on 
the crest of a hill; the men and horses race down the slope onto a flat 
plain, and string themselves out into a long line for the charge. As this 
gets under way, and the riders near the camera, the camera itself be- 
gins to move, tracking rapidly backwards, but moving slightly slower 
than the cavalry troop, which eventually thunders right "into" the 
camera. Creative photography of this type was at its peak in the West- 
erns of the Twenties, and never more so than in the Ken Maynard 
series for First National. 

Other new stars 

The Hoot Gibson features for Universal were quite different, but they 
were also "streamlined." They were light on action and heavy on ban- 
tering comedy, and yet fairly realistic in style. The Texas Streak, written 
and directed by Lynn Reynolds, was an enjoyable comedy-action 
Western with Gibson playing a Hollywood extra stranded in the West. 
He overcomes some rather mild villainy, and is rewarded with a real 
Hollywood contract. Painted Ponies had rather more action and stunts 
than was usual in Gibson films, which was due in all likelihood to the 
direction of Reeves Eason. Others, The Man in the Saddle, for example, 
went sadly overboard on comic content. Occasionally Universal put 
Gibson into a "special" and afforded him much better material. One 
such film was The Flaming Frontier, a spectacular account of Custer's 
"Last Stand" at Little Big Horn. The political and historical back- 
grounds were sketched in with general accuracy, and the battle scenes 
staged on a lavish scale. Dustin Farnum, as Custer, appeared in support 
of Gibson, and Edward Sedgwick directed. 

Another Universal Western star was Jack Hoxie, who had started out 
in straight roles under the name of Hartford Hoxie in such films as The 
Dumb Girl of Portia. However, he remained in vogue only briefly. He was 
a beefy, amiable cowboy, athletic enough, but rather a poor actor. His 
films made a point of stressing the collaboration he got from two four- 
footed associates: his horse and his dog. This element, no doubt, contrib- 
uted to his popularity among youngsters. Before his Universal Westerns, 
Hoxie made a cheap but interesting series of pictures for independent 
producer Anthony J. Xydias. Rather light in action, they were enjoy- 

able little films. Galloping Thru, based on a story, The Fog Man, concerned 
a fairy tale the heroine tells her young brother. A mysterious rider on a 
white horse appears out of the fog at night to defeat goblins, and this 
fantasy was interestingly presented in the early portion of the film. 
When Hoxie appears on the scene, the youngster naturally identifies him 
with the hero of the fairy tale, and good camera work of Hoxie riding 
out of the mountain mists substantiates his belief. The rest of the film 
had Hoxie assuming the role of the family's protector when a thief 
frames the boy's father on a robbery charge. Hoxie's later Westerns were 
all fairly routine in conception, never more than five reels in length. The 

White Outlaw, Red Hot Leather, and The Wild Horse Stampede were among I57 

the better ones. Harrison's Reports summed up the Hoxie series fairly ac- 
curately in its review of A Six-Shootin' Romance (1926): "A fair Western. 
There isn't much new in it, everything being stereotype. There is some 
action, a little human interest and a little suspense, but not enough of 
any one of these elements to give one heart failure. The direction is not 

Leo Maloney was another star in the rather plump Hoxie tradition 
and made his Westerns for Pathe. On the whole, his was a good series, 
with generally well-constructed scripts. Maloney frequently directed his 
own Westerns, and occasionally wrote them, too. The High Hand, The Out- 
law Express, and Two-Gun of the Tumbleweed were among those in which 
he both starred and directed. 

FBO, as we noted earlier, had a most impressive stable of Western stars. 
A series with Tom Tyler was novel in that Frankie Darro, then a very 
minute youngster, teamed up with Tyler in many of the adventures; 
Darro had some good comic material in these pictures. In The Cowboy 
Cop, for instance, he was amusing dressed in top hat and tails and 
dancing the Charleston. Lesser series with Bob Custer and Yakima 
Canutt were much better than average, and among the most exciting of 
all the FBO Westerns were those with Bob Steele. Although they were 
overly melodramatic and almost serial-like in their plot structure, the 
action was continuously hair-raising. Steele was not a big man, but he 
had a cheerful boyish expression, he was a good rider and an even better 
fighter. The Mojave Kid was one of his best for FBO, and its plot is 
typical of the much larger-than-life but really rugged material that dis- 
tinguished his Westerns at that time. He played the son of a man who 
had mysteriously disappeared in the desert; a man himself now, he 
overhears outlaws discussing his father in connection with treasure hid- 
den in an old Aztec ruin. He trails them to their hideout, to discover that 
the outlaw leader has a granddaughter (Lillian Gilmore), with whom he 



falls in love. He discovers that his father has been held prisoner for 
twelve years by the outlaw for having refused to reveal the hiding place 
of the treasure. Thinking that this time he will talk, the villains flog his 
son before him. But Steele breaks loose and holds the outlaws at bay. 
The outlaw leader agrees to free Steele and allow his father and the girl 
to go with him if Steele can beat one of the bandits in a fist fight. Steele 
agrees to fight, wins, and leaves. But the outlaws renege and go in 
pursuit. In order to keep his word, their leader explodes a dynamite 
charge on the trail, killing himself and all but three of the gang. These 
keep up the pursuit of our hero, but are ultimately killed. Finally, hero 
i to marries heroine, and the long-lost father and his wife are reunited. Robert 

N. Bradbury was responsible for the excellent direction; based on a story 
by Oliver Drake, The Mojave Kid was excellent material of its type. 

FBO had one other highly popular series, starring Buzz Barton. In 
reviewing the first of the group, The Boy Rider directed by Louis King, 
Harrison's Reports had this to say: "Thirteen year old wizard Buzz 
Barton ... is a miniature Tom Mix, Ken Maynard and Fred Thomson 
all in one. He can ride almost as well as any of these players, can throw 
a lariat as well, and has a winning smile . . . And he can act. He will 
capture the child custom first, and the child custom will attract the 
adult afterwards." 

Barton's series started late in 1927, just before "B" Westerns went into a 
temporary eclipse due to the coming of sound movies. His second West- 
ern, The Singleshot Kid (like the first, directed by Louis King and written 
by Oliver Drake), was as good as the first; the third, Wizard of the 
Saddle, only slightly inferior. Barton arrived on the scene a little too late 
to make a really big impression, but he remained active in Westerns 
through the Thirties, principally playing in support of Rex Bell and 
Francis X. Bushman, Jr. 

The fine Tim McCoy Westerns for MGM were not the star vehicles 
other cowboy players made in this period. For the most part they were 
fictionalized re-creations of various phases of American frontier history; 
lavishly produced, they were almost all directed by either W. S. Van Dyke 
or Reginald Barker. But surprisingly, the Russian director Tourjansky 
made one of them. Winners of the Wilderness was perhaps the most elabo- 
rate of the group. It dealt with pre-Revolutionary days when the 
Canadian French plotted to conquer the Ohio; McCoy was cast as an 
Irish officer in the British army. One of the highlights of the film was a 
spectacular attack on a French fort by British troops headed by General 
Braddock, and their defeat at the hands of the French and their Indian 
allies. In California, the conflict between the United States and Mexico 

in 1845 was taken up, after which California was added to the Union. 
Again, there were some truly spectacular battle scenes, most notably in 
the ambush of General Kearney's command by the Mexican army. War 
Paint and The Law of the Range (with Joan Crawford) had more conven- 
tional plot-lines, but The Frontiersman reverted to the historical format in 
a story dealing with Andrew Jackson's attempt to suppress the Creek 
Indian uprisings. These MGM Westerns with McCoy were on an even 
larger scale than were the Maynard films for First National, although 
they were more pretentious and generally slower paced, with occasional 
long stretches between their action highlights. 

Universal's Pete Morrison Westerns of the Twenties have been strangely \ 59 

forgotten, and yet, although short (usually under five thousand feet) and 
made cheaply, they were often quite fresh and unusual, particularly in 
the plots. Blue Blazes, for example, had a typical "city mystery" plot: an 
Eastern financier is murdered, and his money disappears. Twenty years 
later his granddaughter goes West on a slender clue, hoping to avenge 
the murder and recover the money. The mystery comes to a thrilling 
climax with a cloudburst swelling the river and deluging a mountain 
cabin. Another first-class Pete Morrison Western, Triple Action, featured 
some good stunting acrobatics. 

Among the most enjoyable Westerns of the Twenties were those with 
canine stars. Rin Tin Tin was the undisputed monarch of this realm, of 
course, but most studios had their own dog stars, ranging from Peter the 
Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Strongheart, down to Universal's 
rather moth-eaten imitation of Rinty, Dynamite. (Dynamite appeared 
with Edmund Cobb in some uneven Universal Westerns, of which Wolf's 
Trail was probably the best, and Fangs of Destiny the weakest.) Rinty was 
more than just a well-trained dog and a beautiful animal; he was an 
actor. Overblown as that statement may seem, it is nevertheless true, as 
almost any scene in The Night Cry will prove. Rinty 's acting ability grew 
with each picture, many of which were Westerns. In his early films 
( Where the North Begins, for example) there were several scenes in which 
he stared at the camera, waited for his instructions, and then went 
through his paces. Not so in his later pictures; Rinty now knew exactly 
what to do, and did it faultlessly. He had a way of running into a situa- 
tion, "sizing it up," and then, having decided on the wisest course of 
action, following it. All of the later Rin Tin Tin films had at least one 
situation in which he had to emote, to rely entirely on facial expressions, 
rather than on cute action. In The Night Cry there was a sequence in which 
Rinty, suspected of killing sheep, returns forlornly to his master's cabin. 
He puts his head on the table between his master (John Harron) and mis- 


tress (June Marlowe), and in a single take, expresses hope, grief, tolerance, 
and finally joy, when at least one friend is found in the person of the 
couple's baby. Rin Tin Tin's writers were forever dreaming up dramatic 
dilemmas such as this one for the canine star — and he always played 
them to the hilt. 

His films represented great income for Warners, helping more than 
once to pay off the losses on the costly prestige films with John Barry- 
more, much as Tom Mix helped pay off the mortgage at Fox. They were 
also something of a phenomenon: they were cheaply made, and often so 
naive that they seemed at least twenty years behind the times, and yet 
ir>Q so well directed (by Chester Franklin, Howard Bretherton, Mai St. 

Clair, Herman Raymaker, and others) and so well photographed (Edwin 
the western Du Par did some fine work in The Night Cry) that their primitive plots 

were accepted almost casually. Delightful in the Rin Tin Tin films were 
the very human problems requiring instantaneous decisions facing the 
dog. In Tracked by the Police he has to choose between saving his canine 
friend Nanette (trussed up in chains and tossed into the torrent by the 
villains) or rescuing the heroine, who, temporarily blinded, is hanging 
precariously from a crane that dangles over a sabotaged dam. He de- 
cides in favor of his human friend, but by sagaciously working compli- 
cated levers and mechanisms, he brings the flood waters under control 
and both females are saved! 

Rinty always played his big dramatic scenes as if his life depended on 
it. In Where the North Begins, a particularly successful film from every 
standpoint, he fights off the villain while a baby is taken to safety by 
her nurse. When the baby's mother returns, she finds only Rinty, and a 
part of the baby's clothing that has somehow become soaked with the 
villain's blood. Naturally Rinty is suspected of the worst, and clears 
himself only after several reels of self-torment and sagacious detective 
work. Another good one, A Hero of the Big Snows (like The Night Cry, di- 
rected by Herman Raymaker), presented Rinty with an almost identical 
situation, and in addition had him rehabilitate the disillusioned hero 
who, as a reviewer of 1926 put it, "... neglected not only his appear- 
ance but also his home, until Rin Tin Tin, who was unwilling to live in 
a dirty hole, made him feel ashamed of himself, forcing him to give the 
house a thorough cleaning and make himself look presentable." Rin 
Tin Tin's importance should not be underestimated. Many film histo- 
rians never even mention Rinty, only because they have never seen him, 
and consider his films outside the scope of film history. Nothing could 
be further from the truth. Rin Tin Tin was as good a Western star, in 
his own way, as any of them, and a good deal more intelligent than some. 

R in Tin Tin, having disposed of the badmen, turns the switch that will stop the sabotage 
they have wrought on a massive dam project. From Tracked by the Police (1927). 

Directors William Wyler and William K. Howard 

The early Twenties, more notable for their creation of Western stars 
than directors, did witness, however, some very notable directors emerg- 
ing from the ranks of the horse operas. William Wyler served his 
apprenticeship with Universale Westerns, starting in 1925. He had 
come to America in 1921, joined Universal's New York office, and 
shortly thereafter moved to the coast to specialize in foreign publicity 
work. In 1923 he had been one of several assistant directors on The 
Hunchback of Notre Dame. Although by 1925, Universal had a regular 
schedule of Western features, starring Harry Carey, Hoot Gibson, Art 
Acord, and others, they still maintained their output of two-reel West- 
erns, not least as a training ground for stars and directors who seemed 
possibilities for upgrading to feature work. Wyler's first was Crook Buster, 
released late in 1925. From that year on, Universal's Western shorts 
were known as Mustangs, and between 1925 and 1927, when they 
finished, some 135 of them were made. Fast-paced and well mounted, 
they were made in three days, and cost only a little over two thousand 
dollars each. Wyler directed twenty of this series, others being handled 
by Ray Taylor and Vin Moore, among others. One of them, Ridin' for 
Love, was also written by Wyler, the only time he has ever taken a script 

The Bank Hold-up. 

li~ JiiJWR^P 


k * " * ■ — * 


credit. Among Wyler's interesting two-reel films were The Fire Barrier, 
marked by a spectacular forest fire climax which was, in all probability, 
stock footage from some more ambitious film; The Ore Raiders, rated by 
reviewers as one of Wyler's best and most action-packed films; and Daze 
of the West, Wyler's last Mustang short. Written by Billy Engle, it was a 
satirical Western, and presumably Wyler's first encounter with comedy. 

Paralleling the Mustangs, were the Blue Streak Westerns. Wyler 
directed five of fifty-three, the others being handled by Cliff Smith, 
Albert Rogell, and Dell Henderson. These were generally short and 
snappy, five reels being their official length, usually something less than 
i c-a five thousand feet. Lazy Lightning, starring Art Acord, and released in 

December, 1926, was Wyler's first feature. The Border Cavalier starred 
the western Fred Humes, and was Wyler's last Blue Streak Western, but by no 

means his last Western for Universal. Thereafter they referred to their 
Westerns as an "Adventure Series," heralded by the symbol of a stam- 
peding elephant. Wyler's work in this new group included Ted Wells' 
first picture, Straight Shootin', a film with some effective comic moments, 
and Desert Dust, another Wells vehicle which placed more emphasis than 
usual on the romantic element. Reviewers generally agreed that Thunder 
Riders, Wyler's last "B" Western, was rather inferior, but none of the 
Universal Westerns (apart from the specials with Hoot Gibson and oc- 
casionally Jack Hoxie) drew especially enthusiastic comment, for, in 
comparison with the slicker Mix pictures and the fine FBO releases, they 
seemed rather too standardized. 

Wyler was to make only three more Westerns in his career (up to 1961 ): 
Hell's Heroes (1929), The Westerner (1940), and The Big Country (1958). 
Next to Wyler and Ford the most interesting directorial talent to emerge 
from Westerns in the period was that of William K. Howard, who did 
not specialize exclusively in Westerns in his early years. 

For some reason, all trade biographies give Howard's first film as East 
of Broadway (1924). Actually, by then he had already made nine pictures, 
with a marked stress on action and melodrama. Some lively Richard 
Talmadge stunt thrillers were among them. Of these nine pictures, one 
was a particularly pleasing Western: Captain Fly by Night (1922). Based 
on a story by Johnston McCulley, it was a rather obvious attempt 
to cash in on the success of Fairbanks' The Mark of^orro (also, of course, 
written by McCulley) and quite imitative in places. The picture moved 
fast, and was extremely well photographed and edited; Howard was a 
dynamic visual director and even when his plot material was negligible, 
he held interest with the excellence of his camera work: shots were well 
composed, the angles were well conceived, and intelligent use was made 

of the moving camera. Famous Players-Lasky signed Howard late in 
1924 for a number of pictures, the most ambitious of which was Volcano. 
Too lurid to be suited to Howard's taut, realistic style, and marred by 
some unconvincing special effects, it was not a particularly good film. 
Far more successful were four large-scale Westerns in the studio's Zane 
Grey series: The Border Legion, The Thundering Herd, The Code of the West, 
and Light of the Western Stars. The best of these was The Thundering Herd, 
starring Jack Holt, Tim McCoy, and Noah Beery, and featuring as its 
climax a spectacularly staged stampede of covered wagons across a 
frozen lake. Light of the Western Stars, again with Holt, was also good 
with a suspenseful second half more than compensating for a slow begin- 
ning. The climactic situation in which the hero is permitted to walk the 
streets unarmed, prevented from escaping by the presence of the villain's 
men, and knowing that he will be killed at sundown unless ransom 
money arrives by then, was a natural for Howard's melodramatic flair. 
When Cecil B. De Mille formed his own production company, shortly 
thereafter, Howard joined him. Having made three Rod La Rocque 
vehicles, Howard wrote and directed the picture that has since been re- 
garded as one of the greatest films for the silent period, and a most nota- 
ble Western: White Gold (1927). It is unfortunate that the film is not 
available for revaluation. No prints have survived in the United States, 
while only one is known to be held in France, and the negative is no 
longer in existence. White Gold (the title refers to wool) had a Western set- 
ting, but its story — that of a Mexican dancer who marries and goes to live 



William K. Howard, who made 
several high-grade Westerns in 
the Twenties, directs Noah 
Beery in a scene from The 
Thundering Herd (1925). 


on a lonely sheep ranch, with its strange, stylized treatment of sex and 
jealousy — far removed it from the category of the average horse opera. 
Although based on a play by J. Palmer Parsons, it was almost an orig- 
inal creation, written and conceived in visual and nonstatic style by 
Howard. There were only five people in the cast, with Jetta Goudal, 
Kenneth Thomson, and George Bancroft forming the triangle. The re- 
views were unanimous raves, and even Harrison's Reports, inclined to be 
overly critical of films that were judged by exhibitors as being too artistic 
to be commercial {Greed, Potemkin, and Metropolis were all found wanting 
on one score or another by the publication), was unstinting in its praise: 
"From the standpoint of production, scenario construction, directing and 
acting, 'White Gold' compares most favorably with the best German 
the western films that have been brought to America. The production style is of the 

same order as 'The Last Laugh.' Deeper psychology is revealed in this 
film than in any other ever produced in America." 

The Producers Distributing Corporation made every effort to sell the 
film, to both exhibitors and the public, but unforunately White Gold 
turned out to be a resounding box-office flop. Despite this, the film was 
not without influence. Victor Sjostrom's powerful The Wind, starring 
Lillian Gish and Lars Hanson, made in 1928, was remarkably similar 
in many respects, although far less studio-bound. It contained one of 
Lillian Gish's finest performances as the city wife who almost goes mad 
from the loneliness of life on a small Western ranch. The melodrama of 
White Gold was repeated in the situation of a lecherous neighbor (Mon- 
tague Love) who attempts to seduce the wife. Terrified, she kills him in 
self-defense, and tries to bury him during a fierce sandstorm. There is 
a strikingly macabre moment when the fury of the wind whips the sand 
from the shallow grave, revealing the rigid corpse lying below. As in so 
many films of the period there was no code-enforced "moral compensa- 
tion" for the justified homicide, and the conclusion had the wife finally 
adjusted to a life in the wilderness, reconciled with her husband. 

Far more surprising evidence of the influence of White Gold can be 
found in one of Universal's "Adventure Series," Wild Blood, produced 
early in 1929. Director Henry MacRae and cameraman George Robinson 
took a story that already had elements of White Gold in it (the bored West- 
ern girl, tired of drudgery, is prepared to sell herself to the villain merely 
to get to the excitement of the city) and gave it a strangely stylized 
visual treatment. There were a preponderance of moving camera work, 
an interesting dream effect utilizing a rocking camera and split-screen, and 
other visual devices whose direct inspiration was both White Gold and 
the German cinema. 

Other aspects of the Twenties 

Two films that should not be forgotten were The Round Up, an interesting 
Western satire with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, and The Last of the Mohi- 
cans. This last film was perhaps not thoroughly "Western," but so 
essentially American-Frontier in its spirit that it deserves a mention. It 
was made by the brilliant French director Maurice Tourneur who was 
responsible for some of the most visually exquisite films turned out in 
the United States between 1915 and the end of the silent era. Even in 
the early days, Tourneur's breath-taking compositions never dominated 

plot or action: his pictures moved, and their action was staged on a 1/27 

spectacular scale. Tourneur's version of The Last of the Mohicans was by 
far the best of the many versions of this James Fenimore Cooper tale. 

By 1921, Universal was probably the most active Western production 
company. One of the biggest hits of the year was Douglas Fairbanks' 
The Mark of ^orro, his first real costume picture, but one in which he re- 
tained the economy, sense of fun, and lively tempo that had marked his 
earlier pictures. The year 1925 was probably the industry's most prolific 
year "outdoors," with Westerns of every size and type, ranging from 
MGM's The Great Divide with Conway Tearle, Alice Terry, and Wallace 
Beery, to Associated-Exhibitors' Twisted Triggers with Wally Wales. 
Petite, charming Betty Bronson — sadly wasted by Paramount since her 
captivating performance in Peter Pan — lent distinction to a rather loosely 
constructed but otherwise interesting Western, The Golden Princess, di- 
rected by Clarence Badger. 

Hal Roach's series with Rex, King of the Wild Horses, included 
Black Cyclone, with Guinn "Big Boy" Williams as the hero; some neat 
special effects — stop-motion work using models, manipulated much as 
were the monsters in King Kong — produced an unusual sequence in which 
a wild horse fought a mountain lion. Buster Keaton made a sadly dis- 
appointing Western satire in Go West, although the opening reel was 
hilarious. Thereafter, it declined into uninspired imitation-Sennett slap- 
stick and, although amusing, was far below Keaton's standards. 

First National filmed their version of Custer's "Last Stand," in a nine- 
reel picture entitled The Scarlet West. Clara Bow and Johnnie Walker 
were co-starred with Robert Frazer, cast as an Indian who has been edu- 
cated in a white school, and is an officer in the American Army. The 
reawakening of interest in the Indian as a Western hero was carried a 
step further in Paramount's The Vanishing American. Since this film is not 
at present available for re-examination, reprinted here is an original re- 
view of the film by Harrison's Reports: 


While Hart and Fairbanks occasionally kidded each other, Fatty Arbuckle 
kidded the whole Western genre, as in this scene with Wallace Beery 
from The Round Up {1920). 

William Farnum, a stage actor who became one of the most popular stars 
of the pre- 1920 period, as the hero of the £ane Grey story, Last of the 
Duanes {1918). 

Whether Famous Players-Lasky knew what they had in their hands when they 
decided to film this Zane Grey story, or simply discovered it after it was made, just 
as the old prospector of the West happened to discover the most paying gold mine 
when the burro on which he rode happened to kick off an edge from a gold-bearing 
quartz vein, disclosing the glittering gold, it is hard to tell. But one thing one can 
tell — that "The Vanishing American" is a picture that will live in one's memory 
after hundreds of others have faded away. Two things are disclosed by "The Vanish- 
ing American": that the plains of the West are inexhaustible material for motion 
pictures; and that Richard Dix is an ACTOR. It took Zane Grey to prove the one 
theory, and director George B. Seitz the other. 

The story deals with the vanishing Indian, starting with the cliff dwell- 
ers of more than two thousand years ago, who, because of the sense of 
security that had come to them from living in caves on the inaccessible 
sides of cliffs, became lazy. Finally a more sturdy and warlike race de- 
scended upon and exterminated them. Years later, the whites subdued 
the Indians and the American government placed them on reservations, 
promising them peace and security if they would live there. But they 
were systematically robbed, murdered, and decimated by the greed of 
government Indian Agents and unscrupulous settlers. Among these rem- 
nants of a once-proud race is Naphaie, son of a chief. He places much 

of his faith in the white schoolteacher (Lois Wilson) of the Indian 
children, who is both kind and sympathetic. When war is declared, 
Naphaie and other Indians join the colors, proud to serve as Americans. 
In France they acquit themselves honorably, but only a handful return 
from the savage fighting with the Germans. When Naphaie and his fol- 
lowers reach their home again, they find Brooks (Noah Beery), a thief 
and a murderer, installed as the Indian Agent, their homes confiscated 
by him, and their women and children forced to live as best as they can 
in the desert. The Indians revolt, but just as they are about to attack 
the whites, Naphaie tells them that the schoolteacher has just returned 
from Washington with the news that Brooks has been discharged. The 
Indians surround the blockhouse in which Brooks is holding them at bay 
with a machine gun. He is killed by a well-aimed Indian arrow. But in 
the fighting, Naphaie, who has been trying to stop the carnage, is shot 
down by a stray bullet. Bidding his people to obey the government, he 
dies, the brave son of a disappearing race. 



The Zjane Grey tradition 

While there undoubtedly was a Grey tradition in literature, there 
was no clear-cut transference of that tradition to Westerns in general or 

Buster Keaton, defeated by the mechanics of city life, is equally defeated by the vastness 
of the West. From Go West (1925). 


even to those adapted from his works; certainly not in the sense that 
there is a William S. Hart tradition or a John Ford tradition. When 
one looks for a reasonably realistic, as well as entertaining literary pic- 
ture of American crime and underworld life, one may turn to an author 
like Dashiel Hammett. Yet Edgar Wallace and S. S. Van Dine are more 
readily associated with the accepted — and more colorful — notions of 
crime. So it was with Zane Grey. Grey didn't create a tradition; he ex- 
ploited one already existing, cunningly manipulating plots and charac- 
ters so that he never seemed to descend to cliche. He deliberately gave 
his characters odd, hard-to-pronounce names like Dismukes in Riders of 
7q the Purple Sage and Guerd Larey in Wanderer of the Wasteland; he rounded 

out his plots with so many characters and so many ramifications that 
traditional action, though well represented, seemed almost incidental. 
Any evaluation of Grey's worth as a writer lies outside the scope of this 
history, but it is reasonable to state that his prolific output represents 
good solid commercial writing, on a slightly higher level than Clarence 
E. Mulford and W. C. Tuttle admittedly, but commercial nonetheless. 
The Vanishing American apart, none of Grey's novels were ever made into 
really important movies, while the less publicized work of A. B. Guthrie 
and James Warner Bellah has formed the basis for many outstanding 

The Grey "tradition" is rather a veneer than anything radically new 
in style or content, and thus there is no common denominator for the 
filmed works of Grey — unless it is a more pronounced emphasis on plot 
and character. Because of the popularity of Grey's novels, an attempt 
was made to retain the values of his stories rather more than in the case 
of other writers. The four versions of Riders of the Purple Sage (1918, 1925, 
1931, 1941) deviated but little from one another. Surprisingly, the third 
version made in the Forties was the best, perhaps because in the earlier 
adaptations, the ebullient personalities of Tom Mix and George O'Brien 
seemed somewhat at odds with Grey's rather grim, revenge-seeking hero. 
The final version was used to introduce a new Western star (George 
Montgomery) who had no previously established screen personality to 

Grey "tradition" varied from company to company, too; at RKO the 
trend was to slick, polished little Westerns, and thus the Grey works were 
either selected for their conventional action content, as in Nevada, or 
rewritten to conform to a less austere pattern as in West of the Pecos and 
Sunset Pass. Fox always had to bear the Mix and George O'Brien per- 
sonalities in mind. The best, as a group, were undoubtedly those that 
Paramount made in the Twenties, when story and production values were 
given primary place, and star value considered only after them (although 

with players like Jack Holt, Noah Beery, and Tim McCoy, Grey's char- 
acters were singularly well served). Apart from a feeble remake of The 
Vanishing American in the Fifties, it has been some time since the screen 
has given us any Grey material — due in part to the recent arrival on tele- 
vision of a "Zane Grey Theatre" which maximized the value of his 
name, while distorting the old values of his works. Few of the films in- 
cluded in the series were actually based on his originals, and many were 
decidedly modern in the heavy psychological mold — the very antithesis 
of his stories. 

Boom years 


The Indian motif was continued in 1926 with Braveheart, in which Rod the twenties 

La Rocque was starred as a college-educated, football-playing Indian, 

who returns to lead his people in the ways of the white man. Paramount's 

Zane Grey films continued with some fine entries, including Born to the 

West, Forlorn River with Jack Holt, and Desert Gold with Neil Hamilton. 

One of Rin Tin Tin's competitors, Peter the Great, made an enjoyable 

action film entitled Wild Justice. MGM's The Barrier was a well-made 

Rex Beach melodrama, with Henry B. Walthall stealing acting honors. 

The Devil Horse, well directed by Fred Jackman, offered action, good 

stunts from hero Yakima Canutt, fine photography by George Stevens, 

and well-staged Indian attacks. 

One of the most spectacular Westerns of the year, sadly forgotten today, 
was The Last Frontier, directed by George B. Seitz, an eight-reel epic 
which had been started under Ince, and temporarily shelved following 
his death. The Indian fighting scenes were spectacular: wave upon wave 
of mounted Indians, hundreds strong, galloped into battle, dramatically 
photographed from high vantage points. Even a fine buffalo stampede 
sequence had to give way before these magnificently staged Indian fights. 

Westerns in 1926 were enjoying their biggest boom of the silent period; 
even a sedate and cultural center like Baltimore, at its Garden Theatre, 
turned out in greatest numbers to see a Western — Tom Mix's The Best 
Bad Man. 

The boom continued into 1927. Old series were sustained, new ones 
were started. But it was the last really big year for the silent Western. 
Paramount, still not sure how to use the unique talent of Betty Bronson 
following her excellent, if unsuccessful A Kiss for Cinderella, had her mark 
time in her second Western, Open Range. A competent film, it had plenty 
of action, with Lane Chandler as the hero, and Yakima Canutt doubling 
for him in stunt scenes. 

Gary Cooper made Nevada, another Zane Grey Western, for Para- 



mount; and the old situation of California under the Mexican flag, 
almost becoming Russian territory, was given another treatment in First 
National's Rose of the Golden West, made by that underrated director, 
George Fitzmaurice, with Gilbert Roland and Mary Astor as loyal Cali- 
fornians, and Gustav Von Seyffertitz engaging in his customary efficient 
villainy. Director Richard Thorpe and star Wally Wales worked 
together on a number of diverting films made cheaply, among them The 
Cyclone Cowboy and Tearin' into Trouble, the last with Walter Brennan 
quite prominently cast. FBO continued strong with their several series. 
First National made the best logging melodrama in years with Valley of 
the Giants starring Milton Sills and Doris Kenyon. Charles Brabin 
directed this particular version of the rugged Peter B. Kyne story, which 
had been made earlier with Wallace Reid, and was to be made twice 
again in color in the sound era. 

One of the most interesting off-beat "B" Westerns was a six-reeler from 
First Division, directed by Paul Powell, entitled Death Valley. For a 
Western, it seemed unusually depressing and sordid, featuring some stark 
scenes of the hero and villain, alone in the desert, nearly mad from thirst. 
The underlying theme was the greed for gold, and the villain's murder 
of his female partner, followed by a flight across the desert, suggests 
more than the casual influence of Stroheim's Greed. The villain meets his 
end in a bizarre fashion, too: quite mad, and already near death from 
thirst and exposure to the sun, he is struck down by a rattlesnake. 

The Death Valley was made again with no plot changes, exactly nine- 

Betty Bronson, a top star who was being 
mishandled, and Lane Chandler, then on 
equal footing with Gary Cooper as an up- 
coming new Western favorite, were teamed 
in Open Range '1927). 

teen years later, this time with Robert Lowery and Helen Gilbert in the 
leads, and Nat Pendleton as the maddened thief who dies of snake bite. 
The only change was a negative one: it was photographed in the blurred 
green of Cinecolor. 

The sound era 

It was inevitable that sound should eventually come to the screen. There 
had been experiments, by Edison and others, in the earliest days, and 
periodically throughout the Twenties, in films like Griffith's Dream Street, 

unsuccessful attempts had been made to hasten its arrival. But the revo- 173 

lution in 1928 was total; sound, initially on disc, soon on track, had come 
to stay, and before its use in movies became absolute, the Western 
suffered a resounding set-back. The genre seemed somehow "symbolic" 
of the silent era, and therefore something to be shunned; Westerns 
seemed to offer little opportunity for the full exploitation of the new 
medium. All that mattered in those early days of the new era was that 
a film talked incessantly, and often to the exclusion of all else. Camera 
movement stopped, plot stopped, action stopped, while the characters 
stood around and talked at length. This is not to imply that only bad 
films were made: veterans like King Vidor refused to abandon their 
technique and mastery of style — his Hallelujah remains one of his best 
films from any period; newcomer Rouben Mamoulian, making his first 
film, Applause, refused to let his technicians tell him about the "limita- 
tions" of sound, and made a picture that was visually a film first, and a 
"talkie" second. But these were exceptions; movies which "talked" on 
endlessly, like The Locked Door and The Racketeer set the rule. The 
Western, recognizing that its appeal lay still primarily in its clean-cut 
action, made small attempt to let dialogue dominate; curiously, however, 
it allowed itself to be slowed down so that its pacing matched the now- 
fashionable slowness of sound films. Victor Fleming's The Virginian, for 
example, an interesting film, and perhaps still the best version of this 
classic Western tale, suffered especially in this respect. A leisurely story 
in any case, it seemed almost artificially slow in its measured pacing. 
With a minimum of action and a normal amount of dialogue, it seemed 
to be full of unimportant incident, with the expectation that something 
significant would emerge at some point from that incident. However, it 
was beautifully photographed and well acted, especially by Richard 
Arlen as the tragic rustler, while Gary Cooper and Walter Huston were 
a fine pair of protagonists. 

But sound was not the only element that affected the Western; some- 




thing else had happened at almost the same time: Lindbergh flew the 
Atlantic, capturing the imagination of millions of Americans. It was 
remarked at the time that the Western was ready for a quick burial. 
Among the most significant examples of this mentality was an editorial 
by James R. Quirk which appeared in the April, 1929, issue of 

"History will be several generations along before we can get a real focus on the 
results of Lindbergh's epochal flight and character. Great as was his initial accom- 
plishment, it will fade into the background when compared to his effect on national 
thought and manners. Lindbergh has put the cowboy into the discard as a type 
of national hero. The Western novel and motion picture heroes have slunk away 
into the brush, never to return. 

Within the past two years, Western pictures, always surefire profit earners, have 
lost their popularity. Western novels and Western fiction have fared a similar fate. 
The Western picture has gone the way of the serial thriller. The cow ponies are 
retired to the pasture with the old fire horses. Zane Grey and Harold Bell Wright 
are following Horatio Alger and Oliver Optic. 

Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson and Ken Maynard must swap horses for aeroplanes or 
go to the old actors' home. 

The great open spaces are now landing fields, and the bears in the mountains 
cannot hurt Little Nell because Little Nell is thumbing her nose at them as her 
lover pilots her over the hill tops. 

They used to lure the dimes out of little boys' pockets with lithographs of Tony 
and Silver King jumping Stetson hats over ravines, and two-gun men shooting day- 
light through dastardly Mexicans who had insulted the ranch-owner's daughter. 

But little boys have changed their ideas since Lindy flew the Atlantic, and save 
their dimes until they can see Sam Browne belted lads plugging aeroplanes marked 
with German crosses, or air mail heroes winging through the fog and the night to 
save the honor of Clara or Corinne, Greta or Colleen. That's just one little thing 
that Lindy's done." 

Photoplay, which has little in common with the magazine of the same 
name today, was the most influential and intelligent of the fan maga- 
zines of the Twenties. It was respected by Hollywood, and not merely 
used by it; its articles and editorials were excellent, its reviews discern- 
ing, and its "fan padding" at a minimum. Through the years, it took 
cognizance of the popularity of the Western and reviewed the bulk of 
them while lesser magazines merely shrugged them off. In retrospect, 
some of editor Quirk's editorials can be seen to be blatantly wrong; but 
the majority were far-sighted and intelligent. 

During the first two years of the sound film, no really important large- 
scale Westerns were made and, influenced by this apparent slackening 

of interest in large Westerns, fewer "B" Westerns were produced. MGM 
ceased production entirely on the Tim McCoy series and never resumed 
any kind of "B" Western schedule. FBO, which had the Tom Mix series, 
likewise stopped production when internal changes transformed the 
company into RKO RADIO, which then launched a group of very 
talkative literary and stage adaptations. It was not until two years later 
that one of these adaptations, Cimarron, unexpectedly returned the 
Western to favor with the RKO front office, and prompted a reinstate- 
ment of series Westerns on their production schedule. 

Fox's In Old Arizona, made in 1929, inadvertently convinced the 
skeptics that the Western could utilize sound beneficially; director Raoul J75 

Walsh, who had planned to star in the film until an eye accident made it 
impossible, made no real attempt to exploit his sound track as such. It 
was a big film, still the best of the many Cisco Kid adventures, and 
doubtless its sheer size and gusto would have made it just as successful 
even had it been shot as a silent. But simple scenes combining sound 
and picture, such as bacon frying over an open campfire, somehow 
excited the critics who now foresaw a great future for the sound Western. 
Visual action remained more important than dialogue. However, if 
speech was to add little to the Western, sound was instead to add a great 
deal. Sounds of action — stampeding cattle, gunshots, etc. — and the use 
of traditional Western folk music, particularly in the films directed by 
John Ford, definitively added another dimension to the genre. 

Uncertain about the future of the sound film, and in any event having 
to cater to both silent and sound exhibitors, many companies issued their 
Westerns in the 1927-1930 period in both sound and silent versions. 
Dialogue was usually concentrated into one or two sequences, the rest 
of the film being mainly a matter of music and sound effects. Dialogue 
was there solely to exploit the novelty of sound, and added little, if any- 
thing to the plot. Because of the then cumbersome sound equipment, 
the films were shot on long box-like sets, with almost no camera move- 
ment. Such sequences, of course, seemed pointlessly static in the purely 
silent versions. For example, Ken Maynard's Lucky Latkin has some bar- 
room comic interludes which brought the whole plot to a grinding halt 
for half a reel at a time. And films like Hoot Gibson's The Mounted 
Stranger, which had always placed more stress than most on comedy, 
seemed particularly slow. 

As late as 1930, some Westerns were being put out in both silent and 
sound versions. Universal's serial, The Indians Are Coming, was so released, 
becoming the studio's last silent serial and jirst talkie serial simultaneously. 
It proved to be a strange mixture of techniques: the sections where direct 


sound, that is to say, principally dialogue, was not used but where 
sound effects and music alone were utilized, remained typical of the 
silents of the late Twenties. There was an almost overabundant use of 
the moving camera for lengthy tracking shots, one of which traveled from 
outside the Western town, right up the main street, and into a close-up 
of the saloon, an exceptionally smooth and long shot that was re-used 
many times during the course of the serial. Of course, the tendency was 
reversed whenever the direct dialogue sequences took over. To make the 
most of the dialogue, the romantic interest between Tim McCoy and 
Allene Ray became more pronounced than was common in serials, and 
i nr some chapters came to their conclusion on a dramatic rather than melo- 

dramatic note, the crises being prompted by words rather than by 
the western physical action. 

The Western as a whole fared much better than most films in this tran- 
sitional change of a period. The average non-Western, content to rely 
on the pure novelty of sound, usually offered seven reels of nothing but 
talk, with a total repudiation of camera movement and a near-abandon- 
ment of all other types of film grammar. The Western instead, by its 
very nature, remained fresh and fast despite the commercial necessity of 
occasional slow stretches. Strangely enough, comparatively little was 
done to introduce music. Ken Maynard occasionally featured singing 
groups in his films, and in fact frequently sang himself, but perhaps due 
to Maynard's own limitations as a singer, and the fact that he still ad- 
hered to the traditional Western, the idea for musical Westerns did not 
catch on at that time. 

The success of In Old Arizona naturally spurred interest in the large- 
scale sound Western epic. The immediate outcome was the remaking of 
several established Western favorites. The Virginian was sold not on its 
own considerable merits, nor on star value, but on the angle: "Now you 
can see and hear this classic story." 

Approximately a year later De Mille used the same approach on his 
third version of The Squaw Man. But, of course, the novelty of sound in 
a film genre which really used it so little, was bound to wear off. Luckily, 
a new novelty attracted a great deal of attention. Almost forgotten now 
is the fact that between 1926 and 1932 Hollywood, which had already 
tried and discarded three-dimensional films, was experimenting with 
various types of wide-screen presentations. For a while it seemed that 
seventy-millimeter film (the same film now used in the Todd-AO process) 
might well become standard, but at the time the revolution was prema- 
ture and the movement died out. At least two important Westerns were 
shot, however, for wide screens on seventy-millimeter film, with, of course, 


Sound was big news when The 
Virginian was released (1929). 





standard thirty-five-millimeter versions being shot at the same time. 
They were Billy the Kid, directed by King Vidor for MGM, with Johnny 
Mack Brown and Wallace Beery, and The Big Trail, another Raoul 
Walsh "special" for Fox. Scenes of the vast wagon train winding across 
the desert, fording a flooded river, and literally being hauled over moun- 
tains, were especially effective because they were suited to the wide- 
screen treatment, and no film since, even in the period of Cinemascope, 
has even approached the effectiveness of this footage. By now, too, 
Walsh had developed more constructive ideas concerning the use of 
music. The grand scale of the Indian battle in the film was made doubly 
effective by the sudden introduction of a furious agitato with Indian 
themes; otherwise, music in the film was still used sparingly. 

The Big Trail also proved the fallacy of the executives' theory that 

sound Westerns would lose the traditional foreign market for Westerns. 
These people thought that it would not be worth the trouble to dub or 
subtitle a film in which dialogue was not of prime importance. The Big 
Trail, however, proved a great success overseas. 

In this period, great importance was attached to foreign versions of 
films. These were versions shot at the same time, but with different 
players, a different director, and sometimes even a completely different 
approach, despite the same basic script and sets. All of the big action 
scenes could be used intact, with occasional cut-in close-ups of the foreign 
players; the German version of The Big Trail, for example, was especially 
i 70 well put together. Dialogue taking a second place to action, the sequences 

that had to be re-shot, on the original sets, of course, were relatively few 
the western anc } comparatively simple. Although German audiences were deprived 

of John Wayne except in the long shots, Germany's exhibitors had 
a much more profitable product. 

Hollywood's practice of making alternate versions of its films did not 
last long; as soon as the cheaper processes of dubbing and subtitling were 
found to be acceptable overseas, the more elaborate method of making 
foreign versions was abandoned, except for occasional shooting of ad- 
ditional scenes to increase the marketability of a film in a given territory. 

Billy the Kid, The Big Trail, and Cimarron in themselves constitute the 
cycle of epic Western of 1930 to 1932. It was a short-lived cycle and not 
a prolific one, but it did restore the Western to the front rank in box- 
office popularity and paved the way for the boom period in "B" West- 
erns from 1932 to 1942. These factors combined demonstrated con- 
clusively that the genre was not ready for burial as Photoplay more than 
intimated; instead it was very much alive and kicking, to the delight of 
its supporters. 

The Western 

"True, most of the characters 
in the movies are better dressed and 
Live more luxuriously than do their 
counterparts in real life." 


Western costuming by Hollywood seems to 
have been governed more than anything 
else by changing concepts of the Western 
itself, and by tailoring to the requirements 
of individual Western players. Special films 
like The Iron Horse and Shane apart, relatively 
little concern seems to have been displayed 
COSLU.ITTC over absolute authenticity of wardrobe. It 

became customary for the hero to dress in 
simple but clean-cut fashion, and the hero 
with a waistcoat or a jacket was rare indeed. 
It was equally customary for the gambler to 
advertise his trade by wearing a long black 
frock coat. 

Undoubtedly the most completely realistic 
Westerns, insofar as costume is concerned, 
were those made by Ince between 1910 and 
1913. With the star system not yet a potent 
factor, authenticity of reconstruction was one 
of Ince's main concerns, and his films were 
in part sold on the basis of their authenticity. 
It was fairly easy to be authentic under the 
circumstances; he was shooting his films in 
the West and about a West that was almost 

Compare, for instance, the utter realism, 
almost to the point of drabness, of the cos- 
tuming in his films, with the costuming in the 
earlier The Great Train Robbery. The explana- 
tion for the difference is that Porter's film, 
shot in New Jersey, tried to duplicate the 
West, while Ince was able to reflect it. 

The costuming in The Great Train Robbery 
is mainly a matter of suggestion; by their 
large, wide-brimmed hats and their boots, we 


Ill-fitting and over- large necker- 
chieves, Eastern hats and shirts, and 
the "expected" sheepskin chaps — the 
initial inaccurate costuming of 
Westerns not made in the West. 
From a Broncho Billy Western, The 
Girl in the Triple X (1911). 

know that these men are supposed to be Westerners. But the suspicion 
remains that the hats and boots were rented, and the rest of the ward- 
robe furnished from the players' closets of old clothes. Too many of the 
"actors" looked like Easterners masquerading as cowboys in clothing 
that was obviously unfamiliar to them. 

Somewhat amateurish though it appeared, the costuming in The Great 
Train Robbery and other early Edison Westerns was still — understandably 
— superior to the costuming in French "Westerns" of the same period. 
The Hanging at Jefferson City, one of a series made by the French di- 
rector Durant, seemed to rely solely on its barroom set, and on its 
exteriors — none too convincing in themselves — to convey Western atmos- 
phere. Costuming was sketchy in the extreme, the average outfits look- 
ing like everyday French farmers' clothes, with only the broad-brimmed 
hats to act as a common denominator between the variety of costumes. 
The Law was presented in the form of two individuals in nondescript 
uniform, resembling, if anything, U. S. cavalrymen. These lawmen both 
bore enormous silver stars on their chests to designate their official 
capacity, but so outsized were these badges that they almost reduced the 
lawmen to the comic proportions of traditional American comic-police- 
men in strip cartoons or, a little later with the Keystone Kops, in movies. 

The Broncho Billy films made in the interim period were, however, 
much more realistic in this respect, without going to the extremes that 
Ince did. Managing to avoid a "phoney" or theatrical look, they struck 

I 1 1 1- Wl-M 1 R\ COM I Ml 

a satisfactory balance between the two. As the first Western star in his 

own right, the rather beefy Anderson cut quite a striking figure without 

being either drab or garish. He wore a simple and modestly colored shirt, 

often a waistcoat (apart from Hart and, occasionally, Mix, few other 

Western stars did this) and leather cuffs, adorned with a single star, 

around his lower arms. These cuffs were, of course, an essential part of 

the working cowboy's equipment. As he roped cattle, he would dig the 

cut-off heel of his boot into the ground to provide a firm anchor, and 

loop his rope around a cuff, which provided the protection from friction 

and rope burns. Authentic or not, they apparently were too cumbersome 

for the movie cowboy, and apart from Anderson and Hart, they never 100 

quite caught on with Western leads. Rather they seemed limited to 

actors playing villains or old-timers; for example, a lesser villain, Earl 

Dwire, wore them frequently, and Raymond Hatton, playing a grizzled 

old-timer in several series of Westerns, used them as an integral part of 

his costume. Hatton's, at least, seemed to be the real article, for they were 

well scarred with rope burns. 

One part of the Anderson costume that never caught on were the 
sheepskin chaps. Chaps were never really an accepted part of the movie 
cowboy's costume, although Ken Maynard, Buck Jones, and Tom Mix 
frequently wore leather chaps. But the sheepskin chaps remained a part 
of Broncho Billy's era. After that, they were worn for the most part by 
players enacting the roles of dudes (Jack Benny in Buck Benny Rides 
Again, Stanley Fields in The Mine with the Iron Door, or William Boyd, 
masquerading as a dude in Sunset Trail). The appearance of an actor in 
these chaps always brought forth gales of laughter from the supporting 
cast of "hardened Westerners." Apparently New Yorkers and Englishmen 
were the principal dudes exported to the West; both fell back on sheep- 
skin chaps, and on "city" riding habits to emphasize their milquestoast 

William S. Hart's insistence on authenticity in all matters pertaining 
to the West extended especially to his costume. Because of this, Hart 
frequently looked far from neat, but he never once took on the slick 
"circus" appearance of so many other "cowboys." Hart wore drab frock 
coats, often shiny with use and dusty from much traveling, and the 
cheap, sturdy, gaudily colorful shirts that the old frontiersmen loved so 
much. They had to be of strong material, to meet rugged frontier activ- 
ity and weather, and they had to be cheap, to meet the cowboy's 
pocketbook. Hart wore these trappings casually, neither exploiting their 
authenticity nor avoiding them because of their vulgarity. His outfit 
varied according to the role he played, but he always wore a Mexican 

Turn Mix: the "circus" a. 

sash beneath his gun belt. This item, 
never actually used by Hart in his 
films, and never copied by any other 
Western star, was a vital part of the 
cowboy's working equipment, for 
with it he tied the hooves of a steer 
after he had roped it. The authen- 
ticity of Hart's costumes was never 
approached by any other Western 
star, nor did most stars even want 
to take on such an unglamorous 

Tom Mix, the next great Western 
star to appear after Hart, went to 
quite the opposite extreme. Mix 
openly admitted that his screen 
character was not intended to par- 
allel that of the authentic Westerner. 
Mix was essentially a showman, and 
his costume perfectly reflected this 
"circus" approach. It was Mix who 
evolved the costume that practically 
looked like a uniform. 

This sort of costume was not 
entirely foreign to the real West, but 
it was the kind of costume that a 
cowboy would buy to indulge his 
vanity at a rodeo, or at a similar 
special event. It was impractical, 
and certainly uneconomical, as an 
everyday working outfit. Along with 
the meticulously designed colored 
shirts and intricately carved boots, 
Mix also introduced gloves to the 
Westerner's outfit — a piece of cloth- 
ing seldom worn by the real cowboy. 
In Mix's case, they were a necessity, 
for his hands were soft and prone to 
injury; but most of the subsequent 
Western stars, without his reasons, 
imitated him and likewise wore 

gloves. Mix's fantastically embroi- 
dered shirts and trousers decorated 
with gold braid (actually his most 
extreme outfits were reserved for 
off-screen appearances) particularly 
influenced Gene Autry in the 
Thirties, and Autry in turn was im- 
itated by another, if lesser, singing 
cowboy, Jimmy Wakely. 

Autry's most distinctive items 
were shirts, usually jet black affairs, 
ornamented with gold braids. When 
Roy Rogers took over as Republic's 
leading cowboy, going in as much if 
not more for music as for action, his 
outfits went even further than 
Autry's, and his pictures often looked 
more like a Romberg operetta than 
a story allegedly set in the West! 
This "streamlining" of costume, 
started by Mix, was developed 
through the Twenties, mainly by les- 
ser Western stars like Yakima Canutt 
and Edmund Cobb, who specialized 
in elaborate all-white outfits. Many 
costumes were deliberately imitative 
of Mix. Ken Maynard, Hoot Gib- 
son, and Buck Jones all dressed 
neatly, attractively and colorfully. 
Although their costumes were far 
less realistic than Hart's had been, 
they successfully avoided being 
labeled as "dudes." In their final 
years as stars, in the Forties, May- 
nard and Gibson did give in to 
the flashier outfits, but Jones never 
did, his only concessions to the 
trend of individual clothing styles 
being his pointed white Stetson 
and a very distinctively designed 

Gene Autry and Champ 


gun belt. The gun belt itself underwent fewer changes than any other part 
of the Western costume. In the Thirties, Monogram and Republic seemed 
to favor functional belts always jammed full of deadly looking cartridges. 
Bill Elliott wore his belt in such a way that the guns rested in their holsters 
butt forward, calling for the spectacular cross draw. And in the Twenties, 
Fred Thomson had sometimes worn a strange-looking all white gun 
belt. It was a clumsy affair, looking for all the world like a child's toy. 
It took much away from his otherwise tough, capable appearance. For 
obvious reasons, very few Western stars used the holster string — a cord 
which tied the holsters tightly to the legs, facilitating a fast draw. This 
j oc was principally a device of the professional gunfighter, and for a West- 

ern hero to use it might suggest either an unhealthy knowledge of the art 
of gunfighting or an unfair advantage taken over an opponent. Hart, of 
course, had used this device frequently, and William Boyd, Bill Elliott, 
and others did on occasion, but it was never stressed in any way. 

Strangely, the "B" Westerns of the Thirties adopted on a large scale 
a costume pattern which had been only mildly prevalent in the silent 
era: symbolic clothing. This was even more surprising since, with the 
advent of sound films, the need for obvious visual symbolism had been 
obviated. The pattern was largely based on black and white clothing, 
the colors representing evil and good respectively. The hero would wear 
a spotless white Stetson, as much white as possible in his costume, and 
would ride a snow-white horse. The villain, needless to say, wore a 
black hat, usually more shapeless and less heroic in size than that of the 
hero, a completely black outfit, and rode a black horse. Sometimes a 
black mustache was added, and the mustache itself became almost 
a symbol of evil, heroes with mustaches in the Thirties becoming quite 
rare; Jack Holt was one of the very few who survived the taboo. The 
trend to white hats was led by such stars as Charles Starrett, John 
Wayne, Bob Livingston, Ken Maynard, Buck Jones, Tex Ritter and Bob 
Allen. Starrett at Columbia wore the largest and most spotless white 
Stetson that ever gleamed from a screen at a near-blinded audience! 

One of the very few exceptions to the rule was William Boyd, who as 
Hopalong Cassidy, affected a rather strange outfit. For one thing it was 
simple and workmanlike, lacking any hint of the garish; yet in its way 
it was quite as unrealistic as the near-surrealistic outfits of Mix. Com- 
pletely consistent from picture to picture — until the much later films in 
the Forties — it was a uniform no less than were the outfits of Mix and 
Rogers. It defied convention by being totally black, but, of course, 
Boyd still rode a flawlessly white horse. 

Another to reverse the black-white symbolic pattern was Tim McCoy, 

who at Columbia in the early Thirties adopted a black outfit, topped 
by a gleaming white sombrero. Later he dropped the white hat, replac- 
ing it with a black one, too. McCoy was always immaculate. His clothes 
were not fancy, but they were obviously of the finest fabrics, spotlessly 
clean, and neatly pressed. He hardly looked like a working cowboy, but 
since he invariably played a lawman posing as a gambler or an outlaw, 
this discrepancy mattered little. McCoy's somber appearance in black 
made him seem like Nemesis in person, for outlaws in any case. He would 
walk slowly into a saloon, letting the swing doors flap behind him, and 
would stand there silently surveying the scene, glowering grimly at any 
obvious renegade, and flashing his eyes from side to side in a manner 
that became almost his trademark. Whether the outlaws accepted him 
as friend or foe, from that moment on, they knew that they had met their 
master! Such a scene was included almost automatically in the majority 
of McCoy's later Westerns, and they depended in large part on his 
striking costume for their ultimate effect. McCoy was a bit of a ham at 
heart, and played such scenes to the hilt. He also had a fondness for 
masquerading as a Mexican bandit, and appropriate scenes were written 
into many of his pictures, giving him the opportunity to wear a colorful 
costume, and to engage in flamboyant theatrics with a Mexican accent. 

Bill Elliott: costume picturesque but 
generally realistic, gun holsters re- 
versed for faster cross- draw. 

Charles Starrett: a tasteful compro- 
mise between neatness and practi- 

William S. Hart, in workmanlike garb, is galvanized into action 
by the pleas of a plain cotton-frocked heroine, circa 1919. To the 
left, Roy Rogers, all rodeo frills, prepares to launch into a song 
with similarly uniformed Jane, circa 1950. Hart was 
spared the sight of this final debasement of the genre he loved so 

Before turning to black outfits, McCoy favored colorful buckskin cos- 
tumes. These were never gaudy either, but were always a little too neat 
and fresh for complete conviction. He looked more like the star of 
a Wild West show than an actual frontiersman, which was a pity, for 
McCoy was not "phoney," only a little too theatrical, and his pictures 
were of the better sort. More realistic buckskin outfits were worn by 
Johnny Mack Brown in some of his Universal serials like Wild West 
Days and The Oregon Trail, and by Buck Jones in films like White Eagle 
and Dawn on the Great Divide. 

One of the very few Westerns to really defy the conventions of the West- 
ern dress, Hollywood style, was Ford's Stagecoach. John Wayne wore, in- 
stead of a belt, suspenders, and juvenile audiences in particular found 

this most distressing: they thought he looked half-dressed and not very 
glamorous. The costume has not been worn since. 

In the Forties, for reasons which no one has yet explained, the large 
Stetson, considered almost a trademark of the Western since the earliest 
days, began to disappear slowly — to be replaced by a much less spectac- 
ular Stetson, equally widebrimmed, but with a much flatter crown. Tim 
Holt, Johnny Mack Brown, George O'Brien, Charles Starrett, and Roy 
Rogers all adopted this as their regular headgear, and in due time all 
the Western stars, even those of negligible stature like Lash LaRue, 
made the changeover. 

John Ford's flair for accurate costum- 
ing was apparent from the start. 
George O'Brien in The Iron Horse. 


Johnny Mack Brown: costume fash- 
ionable, tasteful, hardly realistic. 


Costume changes in other stock characters in the Western — the heroine 
and the Indian for example — have been less distinctive. Female garb 
seems to have been changed primarily to reflect contemporary fashion 
rather than to re-create authentic Western fashions. In early Westerns, 
the trend was to high, demure bodices and to long skirts. In the Twenties, 
the heroine dressed in practical blouses, and skirts were shorter. There 
was no longer quite the same hesitation about showing something of a 
well-shaped female leg, in Westerns or other films, but fashions were 
still modest. In the late Thirties and early Forties, legs were exploited in 
Westerns. Short skirts and ankle boots came into vogue, and musical 
ion numbers, which frequently provided excuses for chorines in tights to go 

through their paces, were contributing factors. Once the Western really 
exploited sex, following The Outlaw, the Western heroine took to provoc- 
atively tight and unbuttoned shirts and blouses, equally undersized men's 
trousers, silk stockings, flimsy negligees, and similar accessories. 

Costuming of the Indian has not radically changed in itself; rather 
have the movies increasingly explored the backgrounds of radically dif- 
ferent tribes in order to show that the feathered headdress was no more 
typical of all Indians than is the bowler hat of all Englishmen. Many 
Indians, particularly the more peaceful ones, and those that lived near 
whites, adopted many of the white man's clothes, especially colored 
shirts and trousers. But, perhaps to stress that Indians were not quite as 
civilized as whites, the movie Indian always seemed to wear his shirt out- 
side of his trousers! A few films like Apache, however, did treat the 
Indian in the white man's clothing in proper perspective. 

In recent years, we have seen something of a return to the style of dress 
of the old Ince films, due mainly to certain inherent tendencies in "adult" 
Westerns and the influence of television series. From this return to more 
realistic and at times drab costuming, a new sort of uniform has become 
identified with the hero. As exemplified by Gary Cooper in High Noon 
and more typically by Hugh O'Brian in his Wyatt Earp series for 
television, this uniform consists of various items of everyday apparel 
subtly combined to produce a dramatic effect which emphasizes black. 
The hero appears as a starkly dramatic figure, a black upholder of the 
Law silhouetted against gray surroundings, visually a man of obvious 
destiny, force, and leadership. 

The Thirties 

"Collectivism is indispensable 
in the film, but the collaborators 
must be blended with one anothei 
to an exceptionally close degree." 

The cycle of epic sound Westerns started in 
1929 and 1930 was short-lived, but the re- 
newed faith in the genre as such brought a 
boom in the production of the modest "B" 
Westerns, a phenomenon which lasted at full 
strength for a decade and a half. The veri- 
table Golden Age of the "B" Western mate- 
rialized in the early and mid-Thirties, with 
cheap production costs, ready markets, and 
high profits. And when the boom seemed in 
danger of burning itself out, the musical 
Westerns of Gene Autry came along to enjoy 
even greater popularity. Although the sound 
era introduced new important Western stars, 
the leading ones, initially at least, were those 
who had reigned supreme in the silent era, 
too: Buck Jones, Ken Maynard, Tom Mix, 
Tim McCoy, and, to a lesser degree, Hoot 
Gibson. Only one of the silent Western stars, 
Art Acord, failed to make the transition in 
sound Westerns. He found his voice unsuit- 
able for the sensitive recording apparatus, a 
big problem, but one that careful vocal 
training could have overcome. Most of the 
top stars of silent films — Garbo, Barrymore, 
Swanson, Chaney — easily made the transi- 
tion, but Acord did not persevere; perhaps 
realizing that his vogue was over, he drifted 
into crime, served a prison term for rum- 
running, and finally committed suicide. Bob 
Steele and Tom Tyler never quite made it to 
the top rank in the sound era, although the 
quantity of their output for independent 
studios equaled if it did not exceed that of 
their more popular contemporaries. Of 


minor stature were the Westerns made by a dozen or so lesser heroes of the 
sagebrush. Bob Custer, one of the poorest actors of them all, appeared 
in some lively serials and "quickie" Westerns with Rin Tin Tin, Jr., of 
which the feature, Vengeance of Rannah is one of the more interesting. Con- 
way Tearle, a minor movie idol only a decade earlier, was sadly reduced 
to such pedestrian Westerns as Judgement Book. Wally Wales (better 
known in later years as a villain under the name of Hal Taliaferro) was 
another holdover from the silent days, appearing in many cheap inde- 
pendent Westerns. Trick roper and rodeo performer Monty Montana 
failed to catch on as a Western hero, probably because the few starring 
i qA vehicles he made, of which Circle of Death is typical, were too ineptly 

produced. Lane Chandler, who had appeared in a number of silent 
the western Westerns for Paramount, had a brief starring period, but soon drifted into 

traditional "hero's pal" roles. Fred Kohler, Jr., son of the famed director 
but a rather colorless personality, after a few starring "B" Westerns re- 
mained at best on the periphery of the field for years. Some of his little 
Westerns were surprisingly good, especially Toll of the Desert, which had 
plenty of action, a solid script, and moving finish very much in the Zane 
Grey tradition. Kohler, as an honest sheriff, hangs the outlaw leader 
whose courage and code of honor he has always admired, unaware that 
the outlaw is actually his own father. 

Probably the best of the lesser Western stars of the Thirties was Rex 
Bell, a good-looking and considerably better-than-average actor whose 
period of popularity was surprisingly brief. His Westerns were often 
good-natured and humorous, with a fairly realistic approach to tradi- 
tional plots. At another time Bell might have been far more popular, 
but when he arrived on the scene, the Western market was already 
glutted with names. Cheap companies like Resolute gave him plenty of 
action and even good plots in Gun Fire and Saddle Acres, for example, but 
an absolute minimum of production value. He did, however, make a 
good series of Westerns for Monogram, married Clara Bow, and gradu- 
ally retired from the movies, returning only occasionally to appear in 
such films as Tombstone, Dawn on the Great Divide and Lone Star. In the 
years before his death in 1962 Bell devoted himself almost exclusively to 
politics, and in 1955 he was elected Lieutenant-Governor of Nevada. 

Among the real old-timers only Harry Carey remained consistently 
active as a Western star in sound films, appearing in both serials 
(Vanishing Legion, The Devil Horse) and in "B" pictures constructed along 
the lines of his silent Westerns. However, most of his sound Westerns — 
Wagon Train, or Last of the Clintons, for example — lacked the really strong 
plot elements that had distinguished his better silents, films like Satan 

Town and The Prairie Pirate, and seemed rather slow-moving. Jack Mul- 

hall alternated between heroics and villainy, as did Walter Miller and 

William Desmond. Only two new Westerns stars of real caliber emerged 

during the early years of sound. George O'Brien had, of course, starred 

in The Iron Horse for Ford in 1 924, and in other silent Westerns, but had 

always been considered a straight leading man rather than a Western 

star. Fox put him into a fine series of Zane Grey Westerns. The other 

newcomer was another Ford discovery, John Wayne, who had played a 

minor role in that director's Men Without Women and achieved stardom in 

Raoul Walsh's The Big Trail. Wayne, under contract to Warners, 

appeared in a remarkably good series of Westerns produced for that 195 

company by cartoon-maker Leon Schlessinger. 

One of the most surprising trends of this period was the temporary THE THIRTIES 

abandonment of "streamlining" in the "B" Western. "Streamlining" 
and lush glamour were considered essential in the Hollywood product: 
the early, halting days when the "movies" became "talkies" were over. 
In films like Grand Hotel or even fairly routine programmers like Jewel 
Robbery, the movie audiences were getting the ultimate in films that 
literally dripped veneer from every frame. It was a wonderful era 
of super-sophistication, an era in which the delightful fantasy of Trouble 
in Paradise could rub shoulders with the stark realism of Public Enemy. 


Westerns, however, did not generally follow the trend to more glamorous 
products, and for a while many of them were austere in the Hart tradi- 
tion. One of the reasons for this was that Tom Mix, Ken Maynard, and 
later, in 1935, Buck Jones had their own production units and handled 
their films in a personal and individual way. But just as Hart had some- 
times lost perspective through too little supervision, so it was to a degree 
with Jones and Maynard. With Jones especially, there was a tendency 
to be "arty" and to play down action in favor of unusual dramatic 
elements. Stone of Silver Creek, for example, almost repeated the austerity 
and evangelistic fervor of Hart's Hell's Hinges, since it was mostly de- 
voted to the methodical conversion and reformation of a saloon-keeper 
(Jones) by a minister's daughter. There was no physical action until a 
lively final reel packed in sufficient riding, fisticuffs, and shooting to 
satisfy the customers. At times, too, Jones became a great believer 
in comedy, casting himself as a "dumb" cowhand mixed up in affairs 
somewhat beyond his comprehension. These films were usually weak in 
all departments. He more than made up for them with good Westerns 

% \ 

It 4 

5mc£ Jones, Tim McCoy, and 
Raymond Hatton in Mono- 
gram's "Rough Riders" series. 

like The Crimson Trail, Outlawed Guns, Border Brigands, Rocky Rhodes, and 
When a Man Sees Red, all fine products of his Universal period. 

Certainly, Jones' Westerns for Universal were superior to those of 
Maynard, who filled his films with action, and especially animal action 
involving wild horses, but who, unfortunately, as a writer-director- 
producer was completely without discipline. He did not always fill all 
three capacities but the official directors of the films — Alan James was 
frequently used — were usually no more than right-hand men for May- 
nard, who made the films the way he wanted. But for this lack of disci- 
pline, Maynard, who was good-looking and a really fine rider, might 
well have built himself into the leading Western star of the sound era. 

Maynard's off-beat approach to Westerns frequently led him into plots, 
written by himself, which were so outlandish as to be completely unbe- 
lievable. In Smoking Guns made in 1933, the main titles, backed by 
strange pseudo-classical and distinctly non-Western music, give way to 
a scene which immediately places the audience into the middle of the 
story. Maynard accuses the villain of unspecified crooked activities, and 
the villain responds by threatening Maynard with the same fate that 
overtook his father. There is no elaboration on any of this. In a scuffle 
the villain is killed by a henchman; Maynard is blamed, but manages to 
make his escape. He is next seen, bearded and white-haired, in a 
crocodile-infested jungle swamp, presumably in South America. Hot on 

his trail is Texas Ranger Walter Miller, who captures him. They become 
firm friends during their trek back to civilization. As they paddle through 
swamps, Miller suddenly becomes wildly delirious and shoots at a swarm 
of crocodiles; the canoe overturns, and Miller is badly mauled by a 
crocodile. Then, in an incredibly written sequence, Maynard casually 
announces that, having lived with the jungle Indians, learned many of 
their medical secrets, it will be a simple matter for him to amputate 
Miller's leg with a red-hot iron before gangrene sets in. Miller, under- 
standably skeptical, shoots himself. At this point Maynard discovers that 
he is an exact double for Miller, a development that is quite unaccept- 
able in spite of the men's heavy beards. Maynard decides to return in jgy 
Miller's place, and manages to fool even those people who knew both 
men intimately. THE thirties 

Nor was there any attempt at serious acting in Maynard's Westerns, 
and this together with the absence of any logic in the tales told, made 
it difficult for adults to accept his films as seriously as they accepted those 
of Buck Jones. But the best Maynard Westerns, like the silent The Red 
Raiders, and his early sound films, Dynamite Ranch and Fargo Express, are 
among the best Westerns made by any star. And to Maynard — rather 
than to Gene Autry — belongs the real credit for the introduction of the 
musical Western. Songs in Maynard's films were never introduced for 
their own sake, and they were integral parts of his films for some five 
years prior to the advent of Autry and Rogers. Strawberry Roan had its 
plot built around the theme of that popular Western song. Maynard had 
a pleasant voice and frequently accompanied himself on the fiddle. 
Songs in his Westerns were usually sung around the campfire episodes, 
introduced logically to provide moments of relaxation between melo- 
dramatic action. They remained essentially masculine affairs, quite 
without dance-hall singers or even a vocally inclined heroine. 

The "old look" in Westerns was further sustained by Paramount in 
the excellent series of high-class "B" Westerns based on the novels of 
Zane Grey, a series started in the Twenties which was to continue until 
the early Forties. Although "B" in running time and budget (with oc- 
casional rare exceptions such as Gary Cooper's Fighting Caravans, a 
rather disappointing imitation of The Covered Wagon in sound), these 
films had exceptionally good production values, strong scripts, excellent 
cameramen, directors, and casts. 

Director Henry Hathaway made some of the best early sound films 
in this group. After The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1934-5) he was promoted 
from "B" films, left Westerns to return almost twenty years later with 
Rawhide, which he directed for Fox. But Hathaway's flair for fast, 

smoothly staged action has never again been used nearly as effectively 
as it had been in those early Paramount Zane Grey subjects. Many of 
the films in this group {Desert Gold, The Thundering Herd, Man of the Forest, 
To the Last Man, Light of the Western Stars) had been made earlier 
as silents. Paramount re-used whole sequences intact from the silent 
originals, often matching up the footage quite cleverly by re-employing 
many of the players from the old versions, casting them in the same roles 
in the remakes, and garbing them in identical costumes. Thus, some of 
the credit we have just given to Henry Hathaway for The Thundering Herd 
rightfully belongs to William K. Howard, who directed the original 
too version: Howard's brilliantly staged stampede of wagons across a frozen 

lake was used again in the sound version and it still proved impressive 
the western and thrilling. However, Hathaway can take full credit for To the Last 

Man ( 1 933), which had a minimum of stock footage. Its stark plot spanned 
many years and concerned a longstanding feud between families. The 
film and feud ended with only one representative of each family 
(Randolph Scott and Esther Ralston) remaining alive, determined to 
end the futility of clan warfare there and then. 

Other excellent Paramount Westerns adapted from Grey's novels were 
Nevada with Buster Crabbe and Thunder Trail, based on Grey's Arizona 
Ames and starring Gilbert Roland. However, with the exception of the 
last two or three films in the series, all maintained a remarkably high 

The "B" Western 

The qualitative difference between the independently made Westerns and 
the "B" pictures of the major studios was quite staggering, especially 
after the early days of sound. The independents (Resolute, Puritan, 
Spectrum, Ambassador, and others) often turned out such a primitive 
product that at first glance it seemed to have been made at least ten years 
earlier than those of contemporary major-studio Westerns. One major 
contributing factor was the poor quality of the camera work. Also, the 
original silent speed of sixteen frames per second (as opposed to twenty- 
four for sound speed) was used on Westerns, due both to the work of 
inefficient second-unit camera crews, and to a then-prevalent belief 
that speeded-up action lent excitement to fast action scenes. This near- 
hysterical pacing of the action, plus the lack of realistic sound effects 
(fight scenes were often played completely silent or with general "scuf- 
fing" effects ineptly dubbed in later), combined with the lack of inci- 
dental music (and especially the lack of agitatos in chase scenes) gave 

one the impression of viewing a speeded-up silent film without the 
benefit even of a theater pianist! The lack of musical scores was, in fact, 
the greatest drawback to these early independent Westerns, for they 
were often very lively little adventures which would have enjoyed more 
popularity with occasional background music. The most useful function 
performed by these very cheap Westerns was that they provided a good 
training ground for several stars and directors: John Garfield and Rita 
Hayworth made their entry into movies by this route in the Thirties; 
among the directors apprenticed in this way were Joseph H. Lewis, an 
editor on Mascot serials who developed into one of the best directors of 
"B" Westerns, ultimately graduating into high-bracket melodramas 
{Undercover Man, Gun Crazy) in the Forties and Fifties, and Edward 
Dmytryk, who made an interesting little Western, Trail of the Hawk. 

Most of the independent Westerns of the Thirties were simple affairs, 
built solely around action. Films like Gun Fire, a Resolute Western of 
1935 starring Rex Bell, and Tangled Fortunes with Francis X. Bushman, 
Jr., were almost non-stop parades of fistic encounters, chases, and riding 
stunts. They were made cheaply and prolifically, in groups of eight, but 
as always there were refreshing exceptions to this pure rule of action. A 
series starring Tom Tyler for newly formed Monogram Pictures in 1931 
featured occasionally original stories, and superior scripting, at least in 
concept, even if it lacked some polished dialogue. One film in this series, 
Partners of the Trail, even went so far as to eliminate villains entirely in 
telling a remarkably adult story of a playboy who has come West to es- 
cape the consequences of having killed his wife's lover. He finds himself 



Tom Santschi, Boris Karloff, and 
the grand old man of many West- 
erns, Lafe McKee, in The Utah 
Kid (J 930). 



battling with his conscience when chance throws him into friendly con- 
tact with the man who has been blamed for the crime. Even apart from 
the unusual plot-line, there were other distinctly original touches, in- 
cluding a drunken scene in which the hero scrawls his name on the adobe 
walls of his cottage. The explanation for the use of such themes in early 
sound Westerns must lie in the fact that writers and directors were able 
to make films for a generally freer screen in those pre-Code days. Cer- 
tainly after 1934 all films adopted a far more conventional and less bit- 
ing format, and the Western cooperated with the "reform" even more 
than did the gangster film and the risque comedy. 

Forgotten Westerns 

The Western common today is the film that is neither an epic nor an 
insignificant quickly made picture, but such Westerns were comparative 
rarities in the Thirties. Yet a number were made, and some were un- 
usually good, two of them quite classic of their kind. One was William 
Wyler's Hell's Heroes, the best of several versions, including one by Ford, 
of a sentimental Peter B. Kyne story; the other, Edward L. Cahn's Law 
and Order, made in 1932 for Universal. Cahn's film was and is sadly un- 
derrated. It is an almost forgotten film, the only sound Western perhaps, 
apart from King Vidor's Billy the Kid, to recapture successfully the 
primitive quality and stark realism of the early Hart films, not only in 
plot, but also in characterization, photography, and direction. 

For Law and Order to refute the trend toward "streamlining," and to 
return wholeheartedly to the original concept was a courageous move 

Andy Devine (center) and Walter 
Huston (right) in Law and Order 

Yakima Canutt (closest to camera) takes a horse 
fall in the Battle of San Jacinto sequence from 
Man of Conquest (1939). 

Warner Baxter, Bruce Cabot, and Margo in Robin 
Hood of Eldorado (1936). This still, one of 
several selected for newspaper serialization, car- 
ried this caption: "In the dim light they saw 
Rosita, naked save for a few torn strips of cloth- 
ing, lying across the bed with her head and arms 
hanging down on one side." 

indeed. A straight tale of four lawmen cleaning up a wide-open town, it 
was slowly paced and never exploited action for its own sake, but it was 
climaxed by one of the most savage gunfights ever put on film. Its flaw- 
less construction, photography (the camera seemed to dart in and out of 
the action like a participant rather than a spectator), and editing quite 
outclass the similar, more highly touted, but vastly inferior climactic 
battle in High Noon. Although based on a novel, Saint Johnson, itself 
based on the life of a famous lawman, most of the characters and inci- 
dents seemed to derive more from the career of Wyatt Earp. Devoid of 
feminine interest, save for a realistic dance-hall trollop without a heart 


of gold, Law and Order starred Walter Huston, Harry Carey, Raymond 
Hattan, and Russell Hopton as the law enforcers, and Ralph Ince as 
the leader of the "heavies." 

Despite the quality of the film, its director, Edward L. Cahn, was, and 
is, comparatively unknown. A former editor who had worked under 
Paul Fejos, Cahn's directorial work on Law and Order was his first — and 
unquestionably his best. Even more than the late E. A. Dupont (who 
made only one great picture, Variety, but had at least several interesting 
near-misses), Edward Cahn was a one-film director. He soon became a 
specialist in economical rather than creative shooting, and spent his 
2Q9 time shooting vapid "B" pictures. 

Some of the credit for the film's unusual quality must be shared: the 
script was written by John Huston. It is interesting, and a little sad, to 
compare Huston's script with that used for Universal's remake in 1953 
under the same title. Although the plot's essentials remained the same, 
all the strength and subtlety of the original were removed, replaced by 
scenes of violence or unnecessarily suggestive eroticism. (While the orig- 
inal film had no leading lady, this one had two!) The very touching 
scene in the original in which the honest lawmen were forced to hang 
an accidental killer (Andy Devine) became a tried-and-true lynching by 
the villains in the new version. 

Apart from Law and Order and Hell's Heroes, the Westerns which were 
neither epics nor "quickies" were mainly limited to an interesting group 
of films put out by RKO, of which The Last Outlaw, Powdersmoke Range, 
and The Arizonian were the prime examples. The Last Outlaw concerned a 

Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDon- 
ald in The Girl of the Golden 
West (1938). 

reformed Western badman trying to go straight in the modern West and 
coming up against city racketeers. It was a well-made film and featured 
Harry Carey, Hoot Gibson, Tom Tyler, Henry B. Walthall, and Fred 
Scott — the latter seen as a singing cowboy when the hero takes his girl 
to the movies, thereby ridiculing Hollywood's idea of the West. Powder- 
smoke Range, based on one of the William Colt MacDonald books in his 
Three Mesquiteers series, was billed as "The Barnum and Bailey of West- 
erns" and rounded up not only most of the reigning Western stars 
(Hoot Gibson, Bob Steele, Harry Carey, and others) but also many of 
the old-timers, William Desmond among them. Such a cast rather got 

in the way of the action and plot, but it was an enjoyable novelty. In The 203 

Anzoman RKO returned to the old school with a straightforward tale of 

honest lawman Richard Dix cleaning up a corrupt town run by Louis THE thirties 


Partial renaissance of the epic 

Between Cimarron in 1931 and Stagecoach in 1939, relatively few large- 
scale Westerns were made, and even fewer that could justly be termed 
epics. MGM produced an interesting if romanticized version of the 
Joaquin Murietta story in Robin Hood of Eldorado. Warner Baxter played 
the famous outlaw, and William Wellman directed. Otherwise, MGM 
seemed to prefer their Westerns to have the flavor of operettas, as in the 
Nelson Eddy — Jeanette MacDonald films, Rose Marie and The Girl of the 
Golden West, and even in Let Freedom Ring, a strange historical Western 
played straight, but marred by the inept dramatics of Nelson Eddy in an 
allegedly he-man role. Warners, until the firm made Dodge City much 
later, limited their outdoor "specials" to logging melodramas of the 
Peter B. Kyne type. Valley of the Giants was a first-rate specimen of its type, 
lavishly staged, and full of exciting action, but God's Country and the Woman 
was not up to it. Both were in Technicolor, as was Heart of the North, 
a first-rate vehicle for Dick Foran, promoted from the ranks of "B" 
Western heroes. But none of these could properly be called epics; they 
had neither the scale nor point of view. 

Perhaps the most interesting epic of the mid-Thirties and, despite its 
faults, the best, was Universal's Sutter's Gold. Initially the Soviet director 
S. M. Eisenstein was to direct, and British actor Francis L. Sullivan to 
star. The role finally went to Edward Arnold, who was perfectly cast and 
delivered a dynamic performance as the Swiss immigrant and dreamer 
who discovered gold in California and finally died poverty-stricken and 
crushed. There was discussion over the script in Eisenstein's proposed 


treatment and, after an interim period in which Howard Hawks took over 
and even directed a few scenes, James Cruze was finally selected as the 
director. Cruze had been slipping since the last days of the silents, and 
made only independent features, many of which were not without inter- 
est, although none were able to restore his faded reputation. Then, an 
excellent little picture for Columbia, Washington Merry-go-round proved to 
be a "sleeper," and Cruze was back in favor again. He directed Sutter's 
Gold with enthusiasm, and in many ways it can be considered the final 
piece of a trilogy begun with The Covered Wagon and The Pony Express. It 
certainly had the epic sense of those two pictures — and a good deal of 
r\c\± their silent technique, too. Cruze found it hard to devise effective transi- 

tions in his episodic story (which traveled half-way around the world and 
included political intrigue in its melodramatic action) and often reverted 
to subtitles reminiscent of the silent era to cover gaps in continuity. 
("Wagons rolling Westward . . . endlessly Westward" was one subtitle 
that would have made perfect sense in The Covered Wagon.) 

Cruze spent a fortune making Sutter's Gold. There were costly jaunts 
to location, mob scenes, a spectacular gold rush, large-scaled battle 
sequences. Unfortunately, for a film without a "name" star, it cost far too 
much, literally wrecked the old regime at Universal, and was one of the 
biggest losses in the company's history. Fortunately for Universal, James 
Whale shot Show Boat at the same time, also an expensive picture, but 
one so tremendously profitable that it enabled the company to survive 
and go on to other, newer things. 

Sutter's Gold was in many ways a very good film, and its major sin was 
in losing money. It finished Cruze as a director of top products, but he did 
continue to turn out some quite enjoyable little "B" thrillers. 

The responsibility for the survival of the epic seemed to fall squarely 
on the shoulders of Paramount in the Thirties. The company's Western 
output had fallen mainly into the "B" category since Fighting Caravans 
and The Virginian made in the early days of sound. After that Paramount 
specialized more and more in rousing outdoor adventure. In the mid- 
Thirties, Paramount switched the emphasis to the epic Western in four 
films, none of which had the virility and pace of the more expertly 
made Zane Grey Westerns. The quartet made up an interesting collec- 
tion of different aspects of Western history. Cecil B. De Mille's The 
Plainsman was a very much romanticized account of the lives of Wild 
Bill Hickok (Gary Cooper), Calamity Jane (Jean Arthur), and Buffalo 
Bill Cody (James Ellison). Jean Arthur represented a monumental error 
in casting, and only the supporting actors (Fred Kohler, Dorothy Burgess, 
Porter Hall, George Hayes) were consistently convincing. The climactic 

Sutter's Californians repulse the Mexican attackers in a scene from Sutter's Gold (1936). 

Indian battle, too long delayed, was exciting but marred by the excessive 
use of back projection. 

Frank Lloyd's Wells Fargo was a grandiose production, but the epic 
theme of national progress was too often lost sight of by excessive atten- 
tion to historical details and the business aspects of the Wells Fargo 
organization. An artificial love triangle further slowed the proceedings, 
which came to life only twice: in a brief attack by Indians on a stage- 
coach, and, more notably, in a spectacular action sequence showing 
a troop of Confederate rebels attacking a wagon convoy. 

King Vidor's The Texas Rangers was livelier, making better use of the 
camera's potential. It, too, was disappointing since it represented little 
more than a series of incidents, most of them drawn from Texas Rangers 
records. It was at least superficially authentic. The action highlights, 
particularly an Indian attack, were directed by Vidor with all the sweep 
and flair for spectacle so much in evidence in his earlier films, The Big 
Parade and Billy the Kid. But it was a spotty film, marred by conventional 
characterization and incredibly banal dialogue. Its action highlights, a 
stirring musical score, and especially fine camera work all made it a 
Western that was worth studying if not a great one. With all its defects, 
however, it was a far better film than Paramount's anemic Technicolor 
remake, 77?^ Streets of Laredo, which omitted the spectacular Indian 
fighting scenes, replacing them with a sadistically brutal horsewhipping 


scene. The Texans, made in 1938, was the least impressive of Paramount 's 
large Westerns of the Thirties, but one of the most enjoyable. With no 
particular historical background it was content to travel the well-worn 
trails of The Covered Wagon. Conventional enough, it had some exciting 
action sequences and likable performances from Randolph Scott and 
Joan Bennett. Above all, its production was thoroughly competent. 

Hopalong Cassidy 

The Plainsman, Wells Fargo, The Texas Rangers, and The Texans were all 
9Qg made by Paramount between 1935 and 1938. Although the company 

did not realize it then, they were making a far greater contribution to the 
Western film with a much less ambitious project — the Hopalong Cassidy 
series, representing the work of veteran producer Harry Sherman. They 
went on to become the most successful "B" Westerns ever made, exclud- 
ing possibly the Autry musical Westerns. Initially Paramount had no 
thought of making a series of Cassidy films, nor were these adaptations of 
Clarence E. Mulford's old-school stories even thought of as traditional 
Westerns. Although William Boyd, a former De Mille star of the silent 
era, was finally cast, he was no youngster, nor did the first film in the 
series, Hopalong Cassidy, suggest that he was. The dialogue explained that 
he was getting along in years and no longer a very active man; and the 
bulk of the physical action was handled by his younger "sidekick," 
Johnny Nelson, very ably played by James Ellison. This shunting of 
action away from Boyd served two purposes: first it remained faithful to 
the character of Cassidy as created by Mulford; and secondly it allowed 
Boyd to remain principally an actor. 

Although he had made one or two Westerns before, such as the 
interesting minor "A" production of The Painted Desert, the film which 
had brought forth Clark Gable as a new villain of note, Boyd was still 
ill at ease on a horse. All his hard-riding scenes were done in extreme 
long shot and doubled by Cliff Lyons. However, within a year he had 
learned to ride well, and The Bar 20 Rides Again was the first film in the 
series to feature close-ups of Boyd riding. Fisticuffs were usually played 
down until quite late in the scenes and many of the films, particularly 
Cassidy of Bar 20, seemed remarkably light on all kinds of action except 

The initial Cassidy Westerns {Hopalong Cassidy, The Eagle's Brood, Heart 
of the West, Three on a Trail, Call of the Prairie, and The Bar 20 Rides Again) 
were all based to a large degree on Mulford's original books and, there- 
fore, in terms of plot content they were quite superior to most of the 
contemporary "B" Westerns. 

They were constructed in an identical manner, often re-using the 
same footage: a deliberately slow "build-up" to a climax of astonishing 
speed and vigor. After five or six reels of minor skirmishing, the last reel 
had a "hell-bent-for-leather" posse either speeding to rescue Boyd or 
being led by him after the outlaws. These climaxes were constructed with 
sweeping trucking shots, slick intercutting of running inserts with long 
panoramic scenes, and really creative, tension-building editing. The ex- 
citement in these sequences was increased by the sudden and appropriate 
introduction of background music for the first and only time in the film. 
The startling addition of a rousing agitato (the one most used was 
"Dance of the Furies" from Gluck's "Don Juan" ) literally had the 
younger element jumping up and down in their seats, while adults re- 
sponded to this dramatic device, too! The construction and this use of 
background music was original in the Hopalong Cassidy Westerns, and 
it was imitated to excellent effect by two producers in particular — Scott 
R. Dunlap in such first-rate Jack Randall Westerns as Riders of the Dawn 
(a perfect example of the influence of one "B" Western on another) and 
by Sol Lesser in his Principal Westerns for Fox release, films like the very 
good Smith Ballew subject, Western Gold. 

Nearly seventy Hopalong Cassidy Westerns were made in all, some of 
them even attaining a limited top-feature status with running times 
sometimes as high as eighty-eight minutes. Despite occasional unusual 
plot ingredients (mainly when the scripts were based on Mulford orig- 
inals) the plots were, for the most part, strictly formula affairs. There 
was never any "adult" material that might prove distasteful to young- 
sters, nor was there much of an attempt at an accurate representation 
of the old West. 



William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy in 
Range War (1939). 

is-a r j ~*rL- ' ■- 

William Boyd and villain Clark Gable (oppo- 
site) in the climactic showdown of The 
Painted Desert (1930). 

If Boyd followed convention, 
he did not follow cliche. Boyd's 
Cassidy was soft-spoken and gen- 
tlemanly, not given to brash 
treatment of the ladies or to ex- 
hibitionistic displays of riding and 
stunting. A mild romance be- 
tween Cassidy and an old sweet- 
heart was revived on infrequent 
occasion, and it never was allowed 
to come to fruition. Romance in 
the Cassidy Westerns was largely 
limited to gentle comedy at the 
expense of Cassidy's perennially 
love-sick young companion, 
James Ellison in the earlier films, 
Russell Hayden later on. There 
was hardly ever any sentimental 
"small-boy appeal," and little 
comedy except that which arose 
naturally from the story. Towards 
the end of the series, in the For- 
ties, producer Harry Sherman 
switched his distribution from 
Paramount to United Artists, and 
the first group of Westerns under 
the new regime were of a gen- 
erally much higher standard: 
Forty Thieves and Hoppy Serves a 
Writ in particular were among 
the best Westerns Boyd had made. 
However, shortly thereafter Sher- 
man terminated his interest in 
the series, and Boyd took over as 
producer-star. Unfortunately, he 
failed to sustain Sherman's high 
standards. His new films were al- 
most totally devoid of action, 
lacked good scripts, and were 
produced on very limited budgets. 
Boyd himself was nearly bank- 

rupt when he finally ceased produc- 
tion on these inferior Westerns. His re- 
turn to prominence on television is 
discussed elsewhere. 

The heroine 

One of the few real changes in the 
format of the Western in the Thirties 
was in the character of the heroine. 
Formerly it had been the tradition for 
the heroine to be beautiful but help- 
less, a tradition thoroughly established 
by William S. Hart, whose heroines 
were usually as passive, though not as 
comically absurd, as those of Buster 
Keaton. Previously her main function 
had been to provide motivation: it was 
her cattle, or her ranch, that was being 
stolen by the villain. If she had a father 
or a brother to protect her, they were 
usually eliminated early in the proceed- 
ings. One of the strangest cliches of all 
was the fact that the heroine never 
had a mother! Occasionally some cas- 
ual reference would be made, the 
father perhaps saying, "If your mother 
were alive . . . ." but even that was rare, 
and the heroine usually appeared to 
be the offspring of but a single parent! 
The hero's romantic interest in the girl 
was rarely emphasized, despite the in- 
evitable last reel "clinch." Sex was 
present in the Western only when the 
villain forced his attentions on the 
heroine, provoking the timely appear- 
ance of the hero and the inevitable 
fight. And even then, the heavy was 
usually trying to win the girl only for 
her property. Naturally there are ex- 
ceptions to these generalizations, but 
for the most part the heroine did fill 
this passive and stodgy role. 



In the Thirties, however, there was a change. The heroine became 
more self-reliant, more athletic, and even sexier. While it took the 
Fifties to introduce the nude bathing scene as a cliche, it was not un- 
known in the Thirties. Esther Ralston's diverting, if unnecessary, swim 
in the nude in To the Last Man was followed by a surprising climax in 
which she engaged the villain in an all-out fight to save the hero! 

The situation of the heroine about to be reluctantly married off to a 
lecherous villain was, of course, not unknown, in silent Westerns either, 
but sound provided new opportunities for exploiting this line, especially 
in Paramount's Zane Grey films in which the badman in question was 
01 n invariably Noah Beery. His fruity delivery of his lines, expressing un- 

controlled lust, added a vigor to such films as The Thundering Herd and 
Man of the Forest. 

Some Westerns even went so far as to have a cowgirl heroine (the first 
since Ruth Mix) and to give her billing and prominence in the plot over 
the male lead. Such was the case in The Singing Cowgirl which starred 
Dorothy Page. While romance remained a minor element in the "B" 
Western, its importance was rising. The standard "city" triangles — two 
men in love with one girl or two girls after one man — began to invade 
even the "B" Westerns, ranging from those like Gun Fire, made on the cheap 
at Resolute, to the far more intelligent Sol Lesser production of When a 
Man's a Man. 

Musical Westerns further increased the heroine's participation and 
made her more of an active partner than a passive leading lady. While 
this trend became far more emphasized in the Forties and Fifties, its 
beginnings can be noted in many of the early Gene Autry and Roy 
Rogers Westerns; in fact, Roy Rogers and Mary Hart (later known as 
Lynne Roberts) were billed as "The Sweethearts of the West." The 
Western heroine took her cue from the times, too, in the matter of dress. 
Figure-fitting, semi-transparent blouses and very tight trousers began to 
replace crinolines increasingly. 

It was no mere coincidence that Westerns like When a Man Rides 
Alone seemed to go out of their way to show their heroines in light, tight 
clothing, mounting their horses with the camera close by. 

Gene Autry and Roy Rogers 

The musical Western cycle got under way in 1935 at Republic. Formerly 
known as Mascot, the company had previously concentrated on cheap 
action pictures and serials. In the last months before Mascot reorganized, 
Nat Levine, the firm's head, discovered Gene Autry, a former telegraph 

Roy Rogers and Trigger 

operator and a singer on radio. Autry and his friend Smiley Burnette, 
a rotund low comic and hillbilly singer, were cast initially in two Ken 
Maynard vehicles. They had bit parts in the serial Mystery Mountain, but 
in what amounted to guest star roles they sang three numbers in succes- 
sion in a Maynard feature, In Old Santa Fe. This film, considered a 
"special" for Mascot and directed by David Howard, was an unusually 
good Western, in many ways a sort of blueprint for the pattern that Autry 
himself was later to follow. Set on a dude ranch, its villainy combined 
modern racketeering with such traditional Western elements as stage- 
coach robbing. There was a pronounced musical element, and even 
Ken Maynard sang several numbers; Autry and Burnette attracted at- 



A poster of the late Thirties. The em- 
phasis on action lessens, and appeal is 
based mainly on the star's name. Added 
credits promise the customers musical 
and comedy content as well. 

The musical Western at its most lunatic — show- 
girls, politics, and the West incongruously inter- 
woven in Colorado Sunset (1939). 

tention and were promptly starred in 
a serial, Phantom Empire, a ludicrous 
affair for the most part, mixing tra- 
ditional Western material with a 
science-fiction story about an under- 
ground kingdom! Autry was pre- 
sented as a radio star, and part of 
the "suspense" evolved from his es- 
caping from various predicaments 
in time to meet his radio deadlines. 
Phantom Empire had the usual Mas- 
cot fast pacing and frenzied action 
and the film was popular. Autry 
played "himself" and thereafter, 
with the exception of Shooting High at 
Fox, was always cast as "Gene 
Autry." This was something that 
none of the other Western stars had 
ever done, but after Autry's innova- 
tion the practice spread and at vari- 
ous times in their career Roy Rogers, 
Bill Elliott, Johnny Mack Brown, 
Whip Wilson, Allen Lane, Sunset 
Carson, Ray Corrigan, Jimmy 
Wakely all used their own names in 
their movie adventures. 

Phantom Empire established Autry 
as a completely new brand of West- 
ern hero, and, billed as "The Sing- 
ing Cowboy" he was thrust into 
a series of musical Westerns, while 
Smiley Burnette went along to pro- 
vide comic relief. Autry's films 
achieved tremendous popularity and 
put Republic on the map. The earlier 
ones, reportedly made for as little 
as fifteen thousand dollars, soon 
turned him into more than just 
another Western star. He was often 
listed as one of the ten top money- 
making stars alongside such names 
as Clark Gable and Bette Davis, and 






at one time he even appeared in fourth place! Of course, Autry made per- 
haps eight films a year while Gable and Davis rarely made more than 
two or three. Although Autry's place in Western history is an important 
one, it is difficult to regard him as a serious Western star: he was 
a popular singer who had something new to offer to Westerns at a time 
when they were slipping back into the doldrums. A weak and colorless 
actor, and only a passable action performer, he could ride well, however, 
and with the help of Republic's overworked stuntmen doubling for him, 
he won an enormous following almost overnight. 

Republic always made the best fast-moving Westerns. Their photog- 
n-iA raphy was always first-rate, the stunting the best in the field, and the 

musical scores, in terms of incidental music, not songs, exceptionally good. 
the western The scores of William Lava were particularly vigorous, as were those of 

Cy Feuer, later a prominent Broadway impresario, who composed in 
the Lava manner. This production knowledge brought unusual quality 
to the early Autry films. Pictures like Tumbling Tumbleweeds and Red River 
Valley combined excellently staged action with really strong and above- 
average plots, and a sensible proportion of comic foolery and songs. The 
Yodellin Kid from Pine Ridge was another enjoyable film in this group, al- 
though it was an off-beat Western that actually had a Southern locale 
set in the turpentine forests of Florida. 

In films like Boots and Saddles (1937), the musical and comic content 
was increased, however, to a degree where it almost completely dominated 
the proceedings. The film had a lively chase and several stunts midway 
through the picture, and a large-scale overland race for its climax, but 
otherwise it moved slowly, and the villainy was merely sandwiched in 
between songs and overlong comic routines. As Autry's popularity grew, 
his budgets were raised, and the musical and other non-Western ingre- 
dients became increasingly elaborate. The presentation of traditional 
Western action in modern, overly "streamlined" Western surroundings, 
together with an up-to-date chorus line, made the films ludicrous, little 
more than parodies of the orthodox Western. 

Republic then developed a second singing cowboy in Roy Rogers. 
Publicity proudly sold him as a sensational discovery who had made his 
first film appearance for Republic with the starring role in Under West- 
ern Stars. Actually, Rogers (whose real name was Leonard Slye and who 
hailed from Duck Run, Ohio) had followed Autry's route to stardom by 
appearing in bit roles. Under the name of Dick Weston he had been one 
of the singing troupe, "The Sons of the Pioneers," and he had also been 
seen in Charles Starrett Westerns at Columbia and — embarrassingly — 
with Autry himself in several films. Ironically, in The Old Corral he 

had even had a fist fight with Autry who then forced him to sing a song 
at the point of a gun! For a while Autry resented Republic's "build-up" 
of Rogers, even though Autry remained their number one star of West- 
erns. He quarreled with the studio and left the screen for a time, finally 
returning with the promise of better vehicles. Although the first film 
under the new deal, Gold Mine in the Sky, was a routine Western, better 
ones followed. 

While Autry was "in the saddle" Republic generally gave Rogers 
and his films less play. His pictures, while maintaining a high standard 
in the musical Western field, were more cheaply produced and never 
given the commercial exploitation Autry's films received. When a hit 
Western song was purchased by Republic, it was always Autry who was 
starred in the Western "special" built around it, the classic example of 
this being the enormously successful South of the Border. Another factor 
working against Rogers was his youthful appearance and slim build; he 
appeared no match for the burly villains that he was pitted against. 
Apparently his writers thought so, too, and often seemed to shun action 
in his pictures. Fisticuffs were rare in Rogers' Westerns until the Forties. 
Then, when the musical Western had lost its novelty and the tough thriller 
was in vogue, Rogers' Westerns almost went overboard in the bru- 
tality of their fights, fights in which much Trucolor blood was shed. 
Nevertheless, Rogers' films were not, until the early Forties at least, the 
virtual parodies of authentic Westerns that Autry's had become. Autry's 
little troupe of hillbilly performers (The Cass County Boys and others of 



Indian athlete Jim Thorpe in 
one of his many minor movie 
roles. With Tex Ritter (left) and 
Slim Andrews in Arizona 
Frontier (1938). 

I 1 II- Wl- S I I l< N 

their ilk) continued to grow in size and activity, and live action continued 
to be of only secondary importance. 

Autry actually was just a shrewd businessman who had no great in- 
terest in or respect for the Western as such. He realized that his value as 
a show business personality (taking in also radio, rodeos, and ultimately 
television and his own production companies) depended on his almost 
comic-opera approach to the Western. He also had the happy knack of 
being able to hide his shrewdness behind the amiable facade of the hill- 
billy singer; he was both a popular idol of the people, in the manner, if 
nothing else, of Will Rogers, and at the same time a highly successful 
o\a businessman. Roy Rogers, on the other hand, had none of Au try's busi- 

ness acumen and was to suffer for it in future years when the two Western 
stars, in business on their own, were to be in direct competition with 
each other. 

Autry' s imitators 

Naturally, the immediate success of Republic's musical Westerns 
prompted copies from other studios. Usually imitations cannot help but 
be inferior to the original, but in this case there was an exception to the 
rule. Warner's singing cowboy hero, Dick Foran, was not only vastly 
superior to Autry as a singer, but he was a much better actor at dra- 
matics and action as well, and his Westerns had exceptionally high pro- 
duction values. They were slick, glossy productions in which the action 
content remained dominant, while songs remained songs and never be- 
came production numbers. Films like Cherokee Strip, Land Beyond the Law, 
Moonlight on the Prairie, and Devil's Saddle Legion (some of them remakes 
of silent Maynard Westerns or early John Wayne "talkies" were excep- 
tionally fine low-budget Westerns, well written and refreshingly free 
from low comedy. One of the perennial villains and supporting players 
in the series was Gordon Elliott, a Warner contract player since 1926, 
who was apparently getting nowhere. For an actor who had specialized 
in drawing-room material, he made a surprisingly convincing Westerner. 
Shortly after these Foran films at Warners he branched out as a West- 
ern star in his own right at Columbia, developing a unique and effec- 
tively austere style. 

Autry, Rogers, and Foran apart, the new musical Western cycle pro- 
duced some interesting new heroes in Tex Ritter, Jack Randall, and Bob 
Baker; lesser ones in Fred Scott, John King, and Smith Ballew; and — 
much later, well into the Forties — a vastly inferior crop in the ineffectual 
Jimmy Wakely (an obvious Autry imitator), Monte Hale, and perhaps 

the most inept Western hero of them all, Eddie Dean. All of these actors 
imitated Autry's formula in the musical content of their films, but not 
in the musical treatment. These movies were still essentially Westerns in 
which songs were only incidental. 

Tex Ritter was discovered and exploited by an imaginative independ- 
ent producer-director, Edward Finney. An authentic Westerner with a 
broad Texas drawl, Ritter specialized in traditional folk songs rather 
than in the modern "Western" ditties of Autry, and was himself a writer 
of Western songs. His films were vigorous, often staged on a surprisingly 
large scale, but their quality varied. Some were built almost entirely 

around stock footage, the interpolation of complete Indian attack se- 217 

quences from Thomas Ince's The Deserter (1915) into Roll Wagons Roll 

(1937), for example, only too apparent, even to the untrained eye. Never- THE thirties 

theless, the Ritter-Finney Westerns maintained a generally high standard. 

Westbound Stage , Down the Wyoming Trail (with a fine reindeer stampede 
sequence), and Rolling Westward were among the best of a Monogram 
series. Their only persistently negative factors were appallingly crude 
and repetitious musical scores by Frank Sanucci. Jack Randall, a former 
bit player, unfortunately arrived on the scene a little too late. He had a 
fine voice, superior to those of most of his rivals, but the market was 
flooded with musical Westerns, and when Monogram presented Randall 
as one more singing cowboy, there were audible protests from exhibitor 
groups as a result, songs were deleted from completed Randall Westerns, 
and the bulk of the series made as normal action Westerns. This was a 
pity, for Randall was superior to most of his rivals, and had he been in- 
troduced a year earlier he might well have become one of the top sing- 
ing cowboys. Randall was also a first-rate action star, performing many 
of his own stunts without a double; in Overland Mail, for example, he 
leaped from a galloping horse to a speeding stagecoach with the camera 
recording the whole action in close-up. The initial films in the Randall 
series were produced by veteran Scott R. Dunlap, who had been associ- 
ated with Griffith in his early days, and had directed many of the best 
silent Buck Jones Westerns for Fox. Dunlap put real production value 
into his Westerns in terms of good scripts, good directors, top camera- 
men, and magnificent locations. Best of them all was Riders of the Dawn, 
a strong story which featured one of the most flawlessly constructed, 
staged, and photographed concluding reels ever put on film: a chase 
across saltflats that compares more than favorably with Ford's chase in 
Stagecoach. The unusual and dramatic placement of the camera and the 
perfect employment of running inserts helped to make this a memorable 
episode, and one of the best of its kind. Randall's career was sadly cut 



short: while working on a serial at Universal, he was thrown from his 
horse and killed. 

Another singing cowboy who missed was Bob Baker. A pleasant 
personality, he was put into a series of musical Westerns by Universal 
but unfortunately, they were pedestrian, extremely low on action con- 
tent. Although they had average production values and good directors 
(Joseph H. Lewis made some of the better ones), their lack of action 
prevented their popularity with juvenile audiences. Baker made a good 
number of solo starring Westerns before he was switched to a co-starring 
series with Johnny Mack Brown. These, for a change, had plenty of 
action, but Baker, although officially co-starred, actually did little more 
than sing a song or two and back up Brown in the action. He made only 
six Westerns with Brown before dropping out of the series, and his 
activity thereafter was very limited — he never returned to starring roles 
in musical Westerns. 

Fred Scott was another singing cowboy who lasted for only a few years. 
His Westerns were made for an independent company, Spectrum, and 
although cheaply made, they were often enjoyable. Scott was billed as 
"The Silvery Voiced Baritone," and while his pictures and his voice 
were good, his personality and acting had little to speak for them. 
Ranger's Roundup was probably his best film. 


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Jack Randall (center) and villain Ed Coxen (right) in one of 
the best of the "B" Westerns of the Thirties, Riders of the 
Dawn (1938). 

The singing cowboy myth: well-groomed, colorfully garbed 
cowboys sing on the range, in the sheriffs office, on the ranch, 
at every opportunity. From Courage of the West (1937); 
in the center are Bob Baker, Glen Strange, and Lois January. 

Other stars 

In the very early Thirties Warners made a fine series of John Wayne 
Westerns, many of them recalling the adventurous spirit of the silent Fred 
Thomson films. Hunted Gold, for example, had an exceptionally good 
sequence, the hero escaping by climbing up a crumbling mine shaft, a 
sequence that featured elaborate set construction and many bizarre and 
effective camera angles. Another sequence in the film had Wayne and 
the villain battling it out in a large ore bucket, suspended over a yawning 
chasm. The bottom falls out and the villain tumbles to his death; Wayne 
is left dangling on a rope to be saved only by the intervention of his horse. 
Never a maker of great Westerns, Columbia was one of the most con- 
sistently reliable producers of competent and fast-moving assembly-line 
Westerns. Their really early sound Westerns with Buck Jones and Tim 
McCoy deserve to be rated above the "assembly line" category. More- 

Randy Rides Alone (1934), with 
John Wayne and Alberta Vaughan. 

over, in the mid-Thirties Columbia introduced some new Western stars, 
of whom Charles Starrett was the best and also the longest to survive. 
The early Starrett films, particularly Two Gun Law, were interesting and 
enjoyable. But later plots tended to be too standardized, and this was 
also true of the casts. A Columbia "stock company" of Western players 
(Dick Curtis, Ernie Adams, Edward Le Saint, Jack Rockwell) supported 

George O'Brien. 

Starrett and made the films look too much alike. Two of the early Star- 
rett films that stand out were The Cowboy Star, in which he played 
a dude Western star who cleaned up a racketeering gang, and On 
Secret Patrol, one of several Westerns filmed in Canada. 

Columbia also starred Jack Luden, a generally uninteresting Western 
star, and Bob Allen in short-lived groups of pictures. Allen was essen- 
tially a straight actor (he had appeared in Crime and Punishment and other 
films at Columbia) and was rather colorless, but his films, especially 
Ranger Courage and When Rangers Step In, were on the whole very good. 
In the mid-Thirties, too, Columbia put Ken Maynard into a group of 
good Westerns, such as Lawless Riders, Avenging Waters, and Heroes of the 

The series that followed marked a return of Buck Jones to Columbia 
in Westerns that varied in quality to an amazing degree: Overland Express 
was a quality film of Pony Express days, but Law of the Texan and Cali- 
fornia Frontier were cheaply made, ineptly directed, and certainly among 
his weakest films. An attempt was made to bring Jones "up-to-date" (the 
formula had worked quite well in his previous Columbia series) by 
putting him into contemporary settings. In Heading East he played a 
Western rancher who came to the big city to smash a gang of racketeers 
that was victimizing lettuce-growers (!), and in Hollywood Roundup he 
played a double for a singularly unpleasant Western star played by 
Grant Withers. 

Columbia's last Western star discovery of the Thirties was Gordon 
Elliott, a former bit player who zoomed to unexpected stardom as the 
hero of a serial, The Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok. He went on to 
make two more serials and a long-running series of "B" Westerns. The 
first two of these, Frontiers of '49 and In Early Arizona (suggested very 
loosely by the Wyatt Earp story) were unusually elaborate, carefully 
plotted, full of prime action. But after this promising start, it was not 
long before the Elliott films declined badly and became cheap, unexcit- 
ing assembly-line products. Columbia also made a few interesting films 
out of series. Into this category fell Heroes of the Alamo, a competent his- 
torical Western with Lane Chandler, and the sadly neglected The End of 
the Trail. This fast-paced and dramatic Western, an adaptation of a 
Zane Grey novel, starred Jack Holt and provided an unexpectedly 
moving climax. The hero (Holt) has killed the villain (C. Henry Gordon), 
who had cold-bloodedly killed a child. Sentenced to death, Holt walks 
alone to the gallows leaving his heart-broken best friend, the sheriff 
(Guinn Williams), and his fiancee sitting alone in his former cell play- 
ing a little tune on a record player. 

George O'Brien was Fox's top Western star in the Thirties, and his 
films were excellent examples of expertly made, yet economical, grade 
"B" pictures. Exceptionally good was Fair Warning (1931), directed by 
Alfred Werker, with George Brent among the supporting players. Full 
of action and stunts and well played by O'Brien with his usual sense of 
lively fun, it was a fine film of its class. Later Fox stopped making their 
own Western series, instead releasing those made independently by Sol 
Lesser. These were split into two groups, one with Smith Ballew and 
the other with George O'Brien. The Smith Ballew films were musical 
Westerns. Ballew was a likable but rather thin and decidedly non- 
muscular Western star; he had a pleasant voice and could handle action 291 
well enough, but he failed to establish himself with the public. Rawhide 

(which for novelty had Lou Gehrig, the baseball player, appearing as THE thirties 

himself in a prominent supporting role) was his best film. The George 
O'Brien group, while far below the standard of O'Brien's previous Fox 
series, contained nevertheless some interesting films. Best of all was When 
a Man's a Man, based on a tale by Harold Bell Wright; an unusually 
intelligent Western, its strong story values more than compensated for 
its relatively light action content. Character development was especially 
strong, for it was one of the few minor Westerns to present a rejected 
suitor (Paul Kelly) in a sympathetic light. Generally speaking, the 
Lesser O'Brien series put too much stress on comic and romantic digres- 
sions, and not enough on action; some of the films, Dude Ranger, in 
particular, seemed to go out of their way to avoid action. O'Brien, how- 
ever, was fine in comic situations, and his cheeky sense of fun injected 
life into what would otherwise have been very routine Westerns. 

Monogram remained consistently active in the Western field during 
the Thirties, first with cheap but creditable little "B" Westerns with 
Tom Tyler, Bob Steele, Bill Cody, Rex Bell, and John Wayne; and later 
with Tom Keene, Jack Randall, Tex Ritter, and Tim McCoy. After a 
temporary hiatus following the changeover from FBO and the brief 
abandonment of "B" Westerns, RKO re-entered the field in the early 
Thirties with some high-caliber Tom Keene vehicles {Freighters of Destiny 
was one of the best) and a few interesting Westerns with Creighton 
Chaney (Lon Chaney, Jr.). George O'Brien made a series of independ- 
ent Westerns, similar to those for Fox, for RKO release. These also 
tended to overemphasize comedy, films like Hollywood Cowboy, although 
one "special" in the group, Daniel Boone, was well made on a surprisingly 
large scale, adopting a sensible proportion of comedy to action. The 
O'Brien Westerns took a distinct upswing when RKO began producing 
them within their own organization. They were well above average with 


their strong plots and some splendid action sequences. O'Brien rarely 
used a double of any kind; if films like Trouble in Sundown and Border G- 
Man were a trifle slow in terms of action, then Racketeers of the Range, 
Prairie Law, and Lawless Valley more than made up for the deficiencies. 
The latter is probably the best Western O'Brien made, if one excludes 
his prime Fox period, with an intelligent script, first-rate action, and a 
fine cast headed by Walter Miller and the two Kohlers, Fred, Sr., and 
Fred, Jr. O'Brien's Westerns were more popular with adults than most 
"B"s, not only because he could act, or because he was remembered with 
affection from the Twenties, but also because his light touch with humor 
229 never failed to please. 

The leading maker of Westerns in the sound era was Republic whose 
schedules in the Thirties were a trifle complicated. For example, the in- 
dependent Westerns of A. W. Haeckle starring Bob Steele and Johnny 
Mack Brown, some of which were made directly for Republic and 
some for his own company, Supreme, which for a time released through 
Republic. The Haeckle Westerns were routine and undistinguished as 
to plot and direction, but also fast paced and full of action. The Steele 
films were given the greater production values, and Cavalry stands out 
as being the best. The Brown films were strictly assembly-line products, 
but Brown himself was one of the best of the Western stars, a fine 
athlete and a pleasing performer (he had of course been a "top-liner" 
at MGM in the late Twenties and early Thirties, playing opposite Garbo, 
Crawford, Mary Pickford, and other great female stars. 

Republic for a time was merged with Monogram, but the association 
was brief. When he left Monogram, John Wayne switched to Republic 
for a good series of historical Westerns ( Winds in the Wastelands and The 
Lawless Nineties among them), many of which featured Ann Rutherford 
as the heroine, and which had Yakima Canutt involved predominantly 
in the action. The Wayne films were made on a fairly large scale, and 
they provided much stock footage for later Westerns. Republic never 
made a really bad Western in this period, and even the weakest had 
elements to recommend it. 

Apart from this series and the Autry and Rogers musical Westerns, 
Republic also produced one of the best Western series any studio has 
ever made — the "Three Mesquiteers" group. Dedicated to action first, 
last, and always, but with pleasant comic moments provided by Max 
Terhune, a ventriloquist, they carefully avoided the "streamlined" plots 
and muscial elements of the Autry and Rogers films. Based very loosely 
on the stories of William Colt MacDonald (and after a while, only on 
his characters) the films strangely contradicted each other with regard to 

He fought foi JUSTICE- 
- Battled for LOVE/ 

A poster of the early Thirties in which 
the emphasis is on theme. The approach 
is simple and direct. There are no 
catchlines, and the appeal rests only on 
the type of film and the star's name. 

the periods in which they were set. The first in the series, The Three 
Mesquiteers, was set in the period right after World War I. Pals of the Saddle 
(1938) dealt with contemporary America, and the violation of the Neu- 
trality Act by foreign spies. Covered Wagon Days dealt, of course, with a 
much earlier period, while others in the series were again up-to-date, 
concerning themselves with racketeering and counterfeiting (Come on 
Cowboys); the crooked exploitation of a state orphanage (Heroes of the 
Saddle); gambling syndicates that fix horse races (Riders of the Black Hills); 
and escaped Nazi spies ( Valley of Hunted Men). 

The films were consistent, however, in delivering first-class Western 
action. The photography was sharp and clean, the musical scores effec- 
tively animated, and the action fast and furious. Heart of the Rockies, Out- 
laws ofSonora, and Ghost Town Gold can be considered the best of this very 
fine series. Ray Corrigan, Bob Livingstone, and Syd Saylor played the 


leads in the first film, but Saylor dropped out immediately and Max 
Terhune took over. John Wayne assumed Livingstone's role a few years 
later. Other stars who were involved as the Mesquiteers at one time or 
another were Bob Steele, Tom Tyler, Rufe Davis, Jimmy Dodd, Ray- 
mond Hatton, and Duncan Renaldo. Leading ladies involved in their 
escapades included Louise Brooks (the lovely star of Pandora's Box and 
Diary of a Lost Girl in what was to be her last American film, Overland 
Stage Raiders), Carole Landis, Rita (Hayworth) Cansino, and Jennifer 
Jones — the latter appearing under her real name, Phyllis Isley, several 
years before The Song of Bernadette. 
224 Each independent company had its own series of cheap Westerns, and 

some companies, like Resolute, made only Westerns. Particularly good 
were the Westerns of Ambassador Pictures, normally directed by Sam 
Newfield, cheaply produced, with a maximum of outdoor work and a 
minimum of interiors, but for the most part very competent and full of 
fast action. They starred Kermit Maynard, the slightly older brother of 
Ken, and a brilliant trick rider. He had started out in silent Westerns 
as Tex Maynard, but never quite achieved real stardom. He was a 
much better actor than Ken, however, and when "talkies" came in he 
became more active, first as a stuntman and bit player (as in Mascot's 
serial, Phantom of the West), and later as an established star. Kermit's 
popularity never approached that of Ken, probably because he never 
graduated from the "independent" market, but he was a likable player 
and did extremely well in his limited sphere. The riding sequences and 
chases in his films were always extremely well photographed, and often 
gave his little action Westerns, such as The Red Blood of Courage, Whistling 
Bullets, and Galloping Dynamite, significant production value. 

Among the many other independent companies operating were Spec- 
trum, Tiffany (in the very early Thirties they made some unusually 
good Ken Maynard films: Texas Gunfighter, Whistling Dan, Branded Men), 
Puritan (producers of one good Tim McCoy, Bulldog Courage, and many 
amazingly slow and generally inferior ones), and First Division (for 
whom Hoot Gibson appeared in some interesting, if rather crude, 

The number of Western stars who appeared in both major studio (in- 
cluding for our purposes, Republic and Monogram) products and in 
those of the independents was relatively few. Ken Maynard and Tim 
McCoy were the biggest stars to follow this course, each appearing in 
any number of series for producers of marked difference in stature, 
ranging from Universal and Columbia to Sam Katzman's Victory Pic- 
tures. The bulk of the lesser Western stars stayed firmly within the 

boundaries of the independent market, the greatest number of them, 

like Bob Custer, Edmund Cobb, Wally Wales, Reb Russell, Bill Cody, 

and Rex Lease, never achieving any major status. Basically, most of 

these players were just good-looking athletes who were not good enough 

actors to get by in the sound era. It was not merely a question of voice; 

sometimes it was even a matter of literacy! Jack Hoxie, a very popular 

Universal silent Western star, is said to have been unable to read his 

scripts; he projected as rather an oafish cowboy in sound films, and 

thus he, too, was limited to the lowest grade Western outfits. As the Motion 

Picture Herald remarked in reviewing a typical independent Western of 

1931, Westward Bound: ". . . the actors appearing in this film may have 225 

been sufficiently competent in the days now gone, of the silent, gun 

brandishing cowboy pictures, but they are hardly capable in the era of THE thirties 

talking films. The lines are spoken for the most part with an utter lack 

of all the rules of elocution." 

With the renewed popularity of the "B" Western following in the wake 
of the musical Westerns, the late Thirties saw the horse opera at its all- 
time peak in terms of quantity production. The epic Western had made 
a tentative return in 1936, and had vanished almost immediately, but 
in 1939 (and in the first two years of the Forties) more Western stars 
than at any other period in movie history were all working simultane- 
ously. No less than thirty Western stars, including old-timers like Buck 
Jones, Ken Maynard, and Tim McCoy, were grinding out groups of 
eight Westerns a year each, making an approximate total of 240 "B" 
Westerns in a given year. This situation was to continue for a few years 
before a decline began. The re-emergence of the epic in 1939 with 
Stagecoach and Union Pacific, and the steadily increasing production costs 
in the Forties were to contribute greatly to this decline, but it was after 
all a quantitative decline from a rather staggering high. 

The Western serial: 

its birth and 

"We know that the wells that dry up 
are the wells from which 
no water is dipped." 


Serials were, comparatively speaking, late in 
reaching the screen, coinciding with the ar- 
rival of the feature film of five reels or more, 
and came into being primarily as novelty 
attractions. In 1913, the Edison company's 
"What Happened to Mary? " series was put 
into production to tie in with a newspaper 
serial of the same name. Its principal impor- 
tance was in getting the serial film started, 
although it was not essentially a serial in 
construction, but rather a series, a group of 
shorts featuring the same character and 
with a slight connecting theme. The adven- 
tures were usually melodramatic, often in- 
volved physical action, and always resolved 
themselves within the episode. 

The Hazards of Helen, made in 1914, al- 
though a railroad series, had, -however, defi- 
nite elements of the Western serial in its 
construction and action ingredients. The 
Penis of Pauline, also begun in 1914, has come 
to be regarded as the prototype of silent 
serials but it was actually still a series film 
in that episodes did not end on notes of sus- 
pense, and in that there was really no cohe- 
sive story line. Parts of it took place in the 
West, making it the first serial to contain 
western material. Perhaps because of its title 
and star (it marked the serial debut of Pearl 
White) The Perils of Pauline has acquired an 
undeserved reputation as the greatest of 
silent serials. Although important as a mile- 
stone, and vastly entertaining today, it is a 
surprisingly crude serial, with abysmally 
poor writing, barely adequate photography, 


and, occasionally effective moments of cross-cutting excepted, very 
primitive editing. 

All told, in both silent and sound eras, slightly more than four hun- 
dred serials were made. Most popular in the silent era were what we can 
somewhat ambiguously term "adventure" serials. These action thrillers 
do not fit into any other set classification and include such items as 
Scotty of the Scouts, The Fortieth Door, and any number of fire-fighting and 
circus stories — two themes that disappeared from serials completely after 

■ S8 




^^ --^^-^JMI^^jjp^. 

Caro/ Wayne and Monte Blue in 
the Columbia serial, The Great 
Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok 


the first few years of sound. In second place, with sixty titles, came the 
Western. (In the sound era, the category increased to eighty titles over a 
somewhat longer period of time.) The Western can therefore be considered 
the genre that was given priority in serials, since the "adventure" groups 
is really a collection of groups. And the total of sixty titles would actually 
be increased considerably if one also included the borderline cases such 
as The Tiger's Trail and The Perils of Pauline which had pronounced, if 
not exclusive, Western ingredients. 

Despite the enormous success of The Perils of Pauline, it wasn't until 
nearly two years later, in 1916, that the first completely Western serial 
was made. This was Liberty, a twenty-episode film made by Universal. 
Directed by Jacques Jaccard and Henry MacRae, it starred Jack Holt, 
Eddie Polo, Marie Walcamp, and Roy Stewart. MacRae was a better 
production supervisor than he was a director, although prolific in both 
capacities. His personally directed serials usually had less inventiveness 
and polish than those of George B. Seitz, W. S. Van Dyke, and Spencer 
Gordon Bennet, the three best serial directors of the silent period. 

By 1920, the Western serial was firmly established in both major and 
independent studios, and steadily growing in popularity. Among the 229 

most notable of that year were North of the Rockies, the first serial directed 

by George Marshall, and Universal's eighteen-episode The Moon Riders, THE western serial 

marking Art Acord's serial debut. The leader in 1921 was Winners of the 
West, the first of the "historical" Western serials, and made by Universal 
who maintained their supremacy in that particular type of Western 
serial right through the sound period. By 1924, the annual total of 
Western serials was up to nine, and from then on to the end of the silent 
period, there was little fluctuation in the number made, or in the stars 
and directors involved. (William Desmond, Walter Miller, William 
Duncan, and Art Acord were the principal stars; Ray Taylor, W. S. Van 
Dyke, Spencer Bennet, George Marshall, and Reeves Eason the leading 

Universal and Pathe, the foremost producers of serials, were joined in 
1927 by Mascot, the forerunner of Republic, with three ten-episode 
serials, two of which were Westerns. Mascot's The Vanishing West (1928) 
was one of the last and most interesting silent serials. Directed by 
Richard Thorpe (later better known for his expensive MGM swash- 
bucklers) it was ballyhooed extensively for its "all-star" cast headed by 
Jack Perrin, Leo Maloney, Yakima Canutt, William Fairbanks, and 
Eileen Sedgwick. 

Action first and foremost was only a partial requirement of the silent 
serials; indeed, many of the pre-1920 serials were singularly lacking in 
physical action. Exciting stunting only came into its own in the mid- 
Twenties, particularly in the Pathe serials, which were always strong on 
inventive action and provided real thrills. Many of the daredevil escapes 
and stunts were truly imaginative and provided real thrills. 

They still do, perhaps especially today, in a Cinemascopic age which 
has so often substituted pseudo-sophistication and so-called "adult" ma- 
terial for the obvious and unassuming thrills and charming adventures 
which so characterized the films of the Twenties. 


Silent serials were also unusually strong on plot values: involved 
mysteries, a romantic element, and one or more "mystery" characters 
whose identities were not revealed until the closing reel of the last 
chapter, were all essential ingredients. The serials proved a valuable 
training ground for many top talents, too, such players as Constance 
Bennett, Charlie Chase, Warner Oland, Laura LaPlante, Warren Wil- 
liam, Lionel Barrymore, and, in the sound era, Jennifer Jones, George 
Montgomery, and others, including, of course, writers, directors, and 

The primacy of the Western among the many types of serials is both 
23() surprising and a reconfirmation of the enormous popularity of the genre. 

For the serial could really bring nothing new to the Western: its pat- 
terns of action had been firmly established, unlike the mystery film, 
which could still expand and exploit its potential in a serial format. The 
Western serial had to be accepted as a Western rather than as another 
serial; it was in competition with large numbers of feature-length and 
two-reel Westerns, which was not true to the same extent with other types 
of serials. And yet, despite this handicap, the Western retained its 
supremacy throughout the serial's forty-year history. 

Inevitably, when a standard Western was expanded to ten, thirteen, or 
fifteen episodes, it became even more standardized than usual. Railroad 
building or covered wagon treks were themes, of course, particularly 
suited to serial treatment because of the tortuous and necessarily 
episodic nature of the subjects. 

Elements of mystery were injected into the Western serial to further 
exploit the protracted development. Often, when the villain was not a 
"mystery man" whose identity was a matter of conjecture, then the hero 
was. The classic example of this was Republic's The Lone Ranger (1938). 
Since there is a limited variety of physical action in the Western, the 
end-of-episode climaxes — and the subsequent escapes — did tend to be- 
come rather stereotyped. Falls from cliffs were popular, as was the hero 
caught beneath a herd of stampeding cattle or horses, or trapped in a 
burning building, or lying unconscious in a runaway wagon, or blown 
up in mine disaster, or about to be lynched by a maddened mob. 

Republic undoubtedly made the best Western serials for the same 
reasons that they made the best non-serial Westerns. Republic's best in- 
cluded The Painted Stallion, The Vigilantes Are Corning, and especially The 
Lone Ranger. At a time when the serial in general seemed to be losing its 
appeal and box-office value, this stylishly made, actionful production 
restored, for a while at least, audience and exhibitor enthusiasm for the 

The Lone Ranger, one of the 
most successful serials of the 

Universal maintained high standards, too, with their Buck Jones and 
Johnny Mack Brown serials, which had plenty of fast-paced action and 
excellent photography. But independent serials of the Thirties tended to 
be rather inept, their crudity emphasized by the fact that they often chose 
very ambitious themes which simply could not be treated adequately on 
a shoestring budget. For example, Custer's Last Stand, a sixteen-episode 
serial, fell back heavily on obviously ancient stock footage, and the 
final "Last Stand" was little more than a mild skirmish between several 
dozen horsemen. To counterbalance its inadequate action, it had a top- 
heavy plot which seemed to incorporate most of the standard Western 
themes within its framework: the Indian princess hopelessly in love with 

the hero, the hero seeking the man who killed his brother, the cowardly 
Army officer who must redeem himself . . . and similar old chestnuts, 
here dealt with only superficially anyway. Its principal virtue was its 
strong cast — old-timers such as William Farnum, William Desmond, 
Jack Mulhall, Frank McGlynn, Josef Swickard, and others — supporting 
Rex Lease, Dorothy Gulliver, Reed Howes, George Cheseboro, Chief 
Thundercloud, Bobby Nelson, and other reliables of the independent 
producers of the Thirties. In the repertory company tradition of the old 
Biograph days, many of the players doubled up. For example, Ted 
Adams, heavily bearded, played Buffalo Bill in one episode, and a 
009 scoundrel in another. Generally speaking, Custer's Last Stand is typical of 

the lower grade of independent serial: slowly paced, stodgy, and of 
stern little interest apart from its cast. 

Independent serials made less headway in the sound era than they 
had in the silent, and by 1938, serial output had dwindled to twelve per 
year, four each from Columbia, Republic, and Universal. In later years, 
the number was cut to three, and then two, from each studio, with reis- 
sues making up the difference so that each studio could offer exhibitors 
the required contractual package of four, sufficient to supply a theater's 
annual need. 

The decline of Western serials paralleled the decline of "B" Westerns 
generally; just as Gordon of Ghost City, made in the early Thirties, had 
been strong, virile stuff of the same caliber as Universal's regular West- 
erns, so did later serials like The Oregon Trail reflect the "streamlined" 
but standardized action of "B" Westerns of the late Thirties. Apart 
from the presence of Johnny Mack Brown as the star, and the still effec- 
tively edited climaxes, The Oregon Trail was a pedestrian affair, loosely 
constructed, and excessively reliant on stock footage. So carelessly was 
it put together at times that the beginning of one episode did not even 
match the end of the preceding one. In one episode Brown was left 
beneath the hooves of a stampeding herd; the following episode made 
no reference at all to the stampede. Nevertheless, with all their short- 
comings, Universal's Western serials did have fast action, good casts, 
and excellent scores. And, to their credit, Universal did occasionally try 
really hard with specific serials. In 1941 they claimed that their Riders 
of Death Valley was the most expensive serial of all time. Certainly it was 
made on a very large scale, with good location work, fine photography, 
and care taken in the musical and other departments. (Mendelssohn's 
"Fingal's Cave Overture" was surprisingly, but most agreeably, used as 
background music.) However, most of the increased budget seemed to 
have been used on a particularly strong cast (Dick Foran, Buck Jones, 

Charles Bickford, Lon Chaney, Monte Blue, Leo Carrillo, Noah Beery, 
Jr., William Hall), for "corner-cutting" showed, certainly in the rep- 
etition of previously seen footage. This work showed signs of careless- 
ness too — sometimes it was a little too obvious that Rod Cameron was 
doubling for Buck Jones, even in straightforward non-action scenes. 

Columbia's Western serials were often produced on a surprisingly 
large scale, particularly Overland with Kit Carson, and were certainly full 
of action, but their scripts were always extremely weak. Plot were almost 
nonexistent, and the serials — which ran to fifteen episodes — were little 
more than series of fights, escapes, intrigues and counter-intrigues. 

Republic certainly maintained the highest overall standards in Western 233 

serials, doubtless because for that studio the serial had always been more 

of a "bread-and-butter" item than it had been for either Universal or THE western serial 

Columbia. During the war years, Republic made a short-lived, but in- 
teresting, move to restore the serial to favor. The vigor of the renaissance 
made the serial's sudden decline after the war an unexpected shock. 
The independently produced serial had, of course, completely disap- 
peared by now. Universal attempted to inject new life into their serials 
by such innovations as eliminating synopses to identify previous action, 
and substituting naive dialogue explanations. When so-called added 
story values were introduced, they usually diminished the essential 

The Royal Mounted Rode Again, had a particularly inept and unattrac- 
tive hero in Bill Kennedy (he later switched to villain roles) and the 
dialogue strangely went out of its way to emphasize his lack of athletic 
ability. When one of the villains escapes, Kennedy is urged to pursuit, 
but demurs "because he has too much of a head start." His crony, an 
old-timer, then offers him a horse, and when Kennedy still appears re- 
luctant, adds "It's a very gentle horse." Since this was not done for 
comedy, one can only assume that everyone concerned was getting a 
little tired of this pedestrian serial, and that uncalled-for lines and situ- 
ations were slipping into it. This suspicion is further heightened by a 
fantastic climax in which the saloon, headquarters of the villains, is 
suddenly revealed to be a made-over river boat. The "saloon" then 
hoists anchor and steams away down a river, the existence of which had 
never been hinted at before. 

By 1948 Universal had made its last serial, leaving the field to Co- 
lumbia and Republic; but by that time rustlers and master criminals had 
become things of the past; the atomic age now exerted its influence on 
serials. Mad scientists gleefully plotted the destruction of the world, and 
the inhabitants of other planets, unmindful of the lessons of Flash Gordon 

ten years earlier, set their sights on conquering the Universe, and espe- 
cially the Earth. The anti-Communist feeling also found its way into 
serials, and not a few were used for crude progaganda. Nationalities 
were never mentioned, of course, but since the villains were invariably 
named Ivan or Boris, and spoke non-stop about the "unimportance of 
the individual," the "liberation of the people," and "the liquidation of 
the leader's enemies," it became fairly obvious that world peace was not 
being threatened by Samoans. 

Western serials had little to offer in the way of competition to Holly- 
wood versions of the present and the future. Columbia and Republic 
034 cut down the number of Western serials to only one each per year. At 

Republic, the slickness and speed of the serials, to a degree, compensated 
the western f or their tired subject matter, but Columbia's products had still less to 

recommend them. Republic's last few serials, including The Man with the 
Steel Whip, another Western deriving from the Zorro theme, were pitiful 
shadows of the company's former fine episodic adventures. Republic eased 
out of the field a few months ahead of Columbia, leaving to Columbia's 
Blazing the Overland Trail, produced in 1955 and released in 1956, the dis- 
tinction of being the last serial made in the United States — unless 
of course some completely unforeseen circumstances should bring about 
a revival. 

Rising production costs and television are the reasons given for the 
decline of both the "B" Western and the serial. Not only was television 
using many of the film serials' heroes (Kit Carson, Wild Bill Hickok, 
The Lone Ranger) for its own series, but it was also reviving many of 
the best serials from their peak period — the mid-Thirties. These elabo- 
rately mounted affairs and television's own expensive filmed series put 
the contemporary, very cheaply made, movie serials on the hopeless 

Today it seems that the serial in general is a matter only for history. 
While television can utilize old movie serials, its programming is such 
that it would find expensive new serials, filmed to its own format, rather 
cumbersome under television conditions. The present television series 
films have no continuity, other than of character, and so can be used in 
any order for reruns, or, of course, run singly. 

So far, the only real serials to attract the attention of television pro- 
ducers have been soap operas. With the plethora of theatrical Westerns 
already on television, and the medium's endless supply of its own West- 
erns, it does not seem possible that television will restore the serial. 
Certainly, it is even more unlikely that the movie industry will do so. 
With all the great Western stars either dead or in retirement, and, since 

it is sure that any serials that resulted from renewed interest would in- 
evitably be cheap and inferior to their predecessors of the Twenties and 
Thirties, perhaps the death of the serial is just as well. 

The good badman, Wallace Beery. 

The Forties 

"Making movies is a game played by 
a few thousand toy-minded folk." 


Renaissance of the epic 

While it is true that the Depression in the 
United States persisted into the late Thirties, 
conditions had improved to the extent that 
a new national optimism took root. Holly- 
wood reflected this new spirit in a return to 
inspiring themes of national progress, and 
naturally the Western featured prominently 
in this trend. However, this important theme 
in the genre merely served to re-establish the 
epic Western as a box-office commodity, and 
it did not noticeably sustain itself beyond 
the first two films of the new cycle. 

Although Cecil B. De Mille's Union Pacific 
was inferior to John Ford's silent The Iron 
Horse, while covering virtually the same 
ground, it was a better film than De Mille's 
previous Western, The Plainsman. Its story of 
empire-building took in all the spectacular 
elements one would expect from a De Mille 
version of the construction of a mighty rail- 
road: Indian attacks, a train crashing into a 
chasm as it tries to forge its way through a 
snowbound canyon, a pay roll robbery, wild 
fist fights, strikes organized by selfish polit- 
ical interests anxious to delay the building 
of the railroad and the inevitable brawl in 
which the railroad workers wreck a crooked 
gambling saloon. Union Pacific, which starred 
Paramount's popular team, Joel McCrea and 
Barbara Stanwyck, was an exciting large- 
scale Western but not an inspiring one. The 
sense of national pride was not as strongly 
present as it had been in The Iron Horse and 
indeed it was largely ignored by the pro- 
ducers until the rather mawkish climax was 




reached. Here, the weak but basically decent Robert Preston redeems 
himself in the traditional style by killing the villain, saving the hero's 
life, dying in the process. Explaining the turn of events to the heroine, 
hero McCrea merely remarks: "He'll be waiting for us, Molly — at the 
end of the tracks," whereupon a brief epilogue showed the rapid prog- 
ress of the Union Pacific railroad through the succeeding decades, a huge 
streamlined monster screaming towards the camera for the "End" title. 
John Ford's Stagecoach of the same year appealed less to a nation's 
pride in design, but far more so in its ultimate execution. A sort of 
Grand Hotel on wheels, and based on the above-average Western novel 
Stage to Lordsburg by Ernest Haycox, it followed a familiar pattern: a 
group of widely assorted characters (perhaps too much of a cross section 
to be completely logical) are placed in a dangerous situation — Geronimo 
is about to attack. This situation forces their true characters to rise to 
the surface. In keeping with tradition, too, those who display the most 
nobility are the social outcasts (a gambler, an outlaw, and a prostitute), 
while the most "respectable" member of the party (a banker, played by 
Berton Churchill) turns out to be least worthy, a man with neither cour- 
age nor principles. 

Author Ernest Haycox is said to have been influenced by de Mau- 
passant's Boule de Suif in his creation of the dance-hall prostitute who 

James Ellison {Buffalo Bill Cody), Helen Burgess {Mrs. 
Cody), and Gary Cooper { Wild Bill Hickok) in De Milk's 
The Plainsman {1936). 

"He'll be waiting for us, Molly — at the end of the tracks." 
The last line from Union Pacific {1939) with Barbara 
Stanwyck and Joel McCrea. 

John Ford directing Stagecoach 
(J 939), with Bert Glennon at the 

is the heroine. Certainly, there are superficial similarities in both the 
action of the two tales and in the conception of the heroine's character. 
The basic differences, of course, are stressed by the fact that Haycox's 
heroine redeems herself in the eyes of all by her courageous actions 
during the Indian attack, while de Maupassant, less sentimentally, more 
cynically, and perhaps more honestly, shows the passengers turning on 
her, despising her again, once crisis and her own usefulness are past. 

Although designed more as a Western melodrama than as an histor- 
ical Western, nevertheless, its carefully etched backgrounds — the estab- 
lishment of telegraphic communication, the patrolling of the frontier by 
the cavalry, the role played by the stagecoach in the opening up of the 
West — made it a far more important contribution to Hollywood Western 
lore than Union Pacific. 

Film historians — in particular, some European critics — have tended 
to overrate Stagecoach as a film and to regard it as the yardstick by which 
all Westerns should be measured. The reasons for this exaggerated eval- 

The climax of De Mille's Union Pacific, 

the linking of the rails. 

The stagecoach and its cavalry escort cross 
Monument Valley in a scene from Stagecoach. 

uation are at least partially sentimental, for the theme itself was an 
obvious one. It was John Ford's first sound Western, and the first for 
which he was to use Utah's Monument Valley for his principal location. 
It was also a film that rescued John Wayne from the rut of "B" pictures 
in which he had marked time since The Big Trail, a decade earlier. 
(Wayne still had to complete a series of "B" Westerns at Republic 
following Stagecoach, but it was certainly this film which paved the way 
for his ultimate success as a star of big-budget Westerns.) Stagecoach 
should be seen in its true perspective as a film more important in the 
development of Ford than in the development of the Western itself. Cer- 
tainly it was one of the most flawlessly constructed and beautifully 
photographed of all Ford Westerns. Even the ending — the time-honored 
duel in the streets — though perhaps anti-climactic after the magnifi- 
cently staged chase across the salt flats, was so well photographed and 
directed that it still sustained interest. The whole film, however, was 
far more a matter of Ford's lovely, sentimental images and sweeping 
action, and Yakima Canutt's brilliant second unit direction of stunt 
sequences, than a completely true picture of the times. William S. Hart 
pointed out somewhat scornfully that such a prolonged chase could 
never have taken place, the Indians being smart enough to shoot the 
horses first! 

Cult of the outlaw 

In 1940 the tendency to glamorize outlaws began in earnest, most 
notably in Henry King's somewhat pedestrian but enormously successful 

Jesse James. Of course, outlaws had 
been presented on the screen before 
in at least a partially sympathetic 
light, but now the tendency was 
almost apologetic, and sought to 
prove that virtually all of the West's 
more notorious badmen had been 
forced into a life of crime by a com- 
bination of unfortunate circum- 
stances, not the least of which were 
the activities of crooked law en- 
forcement officers. 

Jesse James was followed by, 
among others, When the Daltons Rode, 
Billy the Kid, Badmen of Missouri (the 
Younger brothers), and The Return 
of Frank James, the first of Fritz 
Lang's three Westerns. This last film, 
in typical Lang style, glamorized the 
colorful villainy of John Carradine 
as opposed to the dull heroics of 
Henry Fonda. Lang went one better 
in his next, Western Union, which told 
of the construction of the telegraph 
lines, by so stressing the character 
of the outlaw (Randolph Scott) that 
he became, in effect, the film's hero, 
quite overshadowing the "official" 
heroes (Robert Young and Dean 
Jagger). Incidentally, through a deal 
made with the Zane Grey estate, Fox 
advertised the film as "Zane Grey's 
Western Union" although it was 
merely a screenplay written by a Fox 
contract writer; no such book had 
ever existed. Following the release 
of the film, interest in the nonexist- 
ent book by Zane Grey's fans was so 
strong that a book based on the film 
was actually written, published, 

Daniel Boone {George O'Brien) 
and the white renegade Simon Girty 
{John Carradine) in Daniel 
Boone {1936). 

The good badman and the bad badman meet for the show- 
down. Humphrey Bogart, traditionally dressed in villain's 
black, and James Cagney square off in The Oklahoma 
Kid {1939). 

and credited to Zane Grey, who had died in 1939, two years earlier! 

The cause of the whitewashed bandit was furthered by a series of 
Wallace Beery Westerns at MGM in which he played the role the public 
so closely associated with him, that of the lovable rogue. His pre-1940 
Westerns at Metro (The Badman of Brimstone, for example) had their 
sentimental elements, of course, but they stopped short of presenting 
Beery as a completely sympathetic scoundrel. In the post-Jesse James 
period all this was changed, and in films like The Badman of Wyoming 
and Bad Bascomb his nobility acquired mawkish proportions. Bad Bas- 
comb, made in 1940, was a particularly distressing example of this 
242 sentimentalizing process, for the entire film was devoted to the refor- 

mation of an apparently ruthless outlaw by a small child, played by 
the western Margaret O'Brien. The film had two rousing climactic reels and one 

of the best Indian attacks on a covered wagon train that the Forties 
had to offer, but the lugubrious fadeout in which Beery, having saved 
the wagon train at the cost of his freedom, bids farewell to a tearful 
Margaret as he is taken away by the law to face the hangman, was one 
of the grimmest moments movie audiences had to face that year. 

A particularly good film in the "lovable rogue" category was Warners 
The Oklahoma Kid starring James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. Few 
large-scale Westerns have been as faithful to the traditions of horse opera 
as was this picture, which completely avoided the stodgy pretentiousness 
that afflicted Billy the Kid and so many other big-budget Westerns. It was 
fast, vigorous action all the way, complete even to the last-reel fist fight 
in the saloon. At the same time it had a number of pleasing variations 
on standard Western cliches; at one point, the hero rides into town 
just too late, for once, to save his father from being lynched by the vil- 
lains. Another great asset was the creative camera work of James Wong 
Howe. Perhaps unwittingly aiding in sustaining the old-time Western 
flavor was the film's unnecessary but pleasing use of subtitles to cover 
gaps in time and place. One subtitle bridging a gap tells us: "A hundred 
miles away the Kid continued to play his cards the way he saw them," 
a subtitle that could have been lifted from any Ince Western. 

Undoubtedly some of the Western badmen had been, at least partially, 
victims of circumstance (the woman guerilla and later bandit, Belle 
Starr, is a case in point), and others, such as the Civil War renegade, 
Quantrill, may well have been inspired by unselfish motives, but this 
cycle of the Forties followed a set pattern: to completely idealize "pop- 
ular" outlaws like Jesse James and to create complete villains from more 
complex and less "exciting" figures like Quantrill and even John Brown. 
This standardization was furthered by the "B" Westerns: in these films 

Billy the Kid, Jesse James, and others were transformed into conven- 
tional Western heroes so that stars like Buster Crabbe, Bob Steele, and 
Roy Rogers couid, without offense, play them. As always, this conformity 
soon became tiring. When producers of horror films in this period, for 
example, found customers less interested, their first move was to offer 
two monsters for the price of one {Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man) and 
later three or four (House of Frankenstein offered the monster, the Wolf 
Man, Dracula, a mad doctor, and a psychopathic hunchback). So it 
was with the Westerns. First, comparatively obscure Western badmen 
were unearthed and given the whitewash treatment (Sam Bass, Jack 

McCall). Then, Hollywood's writers contrived to have Jesse James, 243 

Belle Starr, the Daltons, Sam Bass, Quantrill, and sundry others join 
forces for organized crime waves which belonged more to the gangster 
era than to the old West. In most of these whitewashing was not even 
attempted in order to provide the requisite amount of brutality and 
viciousness expected of such a line-up of outlaws; needless to say, any 
pretense at historical accuracy was likewise abandoned. Some of the 
more interesting of these films were made by RKO Radio (Badmen's 
Territory, Return of the Bad Men, Best of the Badmen), usually as vehicles for 
Randolph Scott; seldom did any U. S. marshal ever have to face such an 
array of concentrated villainy, in reality or on film. 

Historical Westerns 

Apart from the group of "badman" Westerns, the early Forties saw a 
tremendous upsurge in historical Westerns, particularly at Warners. 
In Dodge City, swashbuckling Errol Flynn switched to cowboy heroics. 
Although his mild manner, careful diction, and well-groomed appear- 
ance seemed to mark him as an unlikely Western hero, the film itself was 
well made; while not markedly original, it was certainly one of the most 
elaborate and exciting films of the "towntaming" school. 

Three other elaborate Flynn vehicles followed. Virginia City was a 
well-plotted adventure of gold robbery during the Civil War with Flynn 
representing the North, aided by his perennial movie cronies, Alan 
Hale and Guinn Williams, and Randolph Scott representing the South. 
Humphrey Bogart was cast none too convincingly as a Mexican bandit. 
It was fast moving, flawlessly photographed, and well scored. Santa Fe 
Trail which followed, and which preceded High Noon by several years 
in having a theme song, "Along the Santa Fe Trail," to publicize the 
film well ahead of its release, was a fairly accurate reconstruction of 
the campaign against John Brown's abolitionist movement. It was cli- 



maxed by a well-staged reconstruction of Brown's abortive attempt at 
Harpers Ferry to start a slave uprising. The third film, They Died With 
Their Boots On, was a rather ponderous and far from accurate account 
of General Custer's career. However, it rates mention as one of the few 
films to deal with the Civil War, the subsequent opening up of the West, 
and the Indian Wars. Many films {Run of the Arrow in more recent years) 
have taken this period as a general background for an individual story, 
but They Died With Their Boots On, viewing the period from a predom- 
inantly military point of view, did succeed in presenting an interesting 
picture of several phases of the West's history linked into a cohesive 

Thereafter Flynn's vehicles became increasingly routine. San Antonio 
the western sl in retained strong production values, plenty of vigorous action (includ- 

ing a gun duel that had obviously been patterned on the one in Stage- 
coach), and featured a wonderful "slam-bang shootup" at the end, in 
which a whole saloon and most of San Antonio was cheerfully wrecked. 

For some strange reason Paramount, which made absolutely first 
class "B" Westerns (the Zane Grey series, the Hopalong Cassidy West- 
erns, the Harry Sherman productions) seemed incapable of turning out 
satisfactory Westerns on a larger scale, exceptions perhaps being Union 
Pacific and The Texas Rangers. Paramount's record in the Forties was 
particularly disappointing. De Mille's entry in this period, Northwest 
Mounted Police, an elaborate Technicolor epic with a huge cast headed 
by Gary Cooper, Madeleine Carroll, Robert Preston, Paulette Goddard, 
and Preston Foster, was an incredibly dull production with literally no 
action until its twelfth and final reel. The only Paramount Western of 
this period that did achieve a measure of excitement was Geronimo, a fine 
example of a film put together with little more than Scotch tape. The 
cast was economically drawn from Paramount's contract roster. The 
heroine, Ellen Drew, had a particularly easy time of it: after smiling at 
the hero in reel one, she was involved in a stagecoach accident and re- 
mained in a coma until the fadeout; she actually had not a single line 
of dialogue in the entire film. The script was a meticulous reworking of 
Henry Hathaway's earlier film, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer. Each detail 
was carefully copied and transferred from India to the West, the only 
difference being that the earlier film had had no heroine, which doubt- 
less accounted for Ellen Drew's sketchy role. The spectacular action 
sequences were all borrowed, with complete disregard for qualitative 
differences, from Paramount's stock library. Thus Geronimo was enhanced 
by the action highlights from The Plainsman, Wells Fargo, and even silent 
material from The Thundering Herd. Nevertheless, despite costing per- 

Errol Flynn as General 
George Custer in They Died 
with Their Boots On 


haps a tenth of what De Mille had spent on his Northwest Mounted 
Police, Geronimo was vastly more entertaining. 

MGM in the early Forties was still considered the studio of the top 
stars, the center of Hollywood's traditional glamour and luxury. Per- 
haps because of this, it seemed to hold Westerns in comparatively low 
regard, making fewer of them than any other studio. In 1939, both Nelson 
Eddy (in a very strange, multi-starred historical Western called Let 
Freedom Ring) and Robert Taylor (cast opposite Wallace Beery in Stand 
Up and Fight, a story of stagecoach-locomotive competition) had failed 
to make the grade as Western heroes. In the Forties, Taylor tried again 
in Billy the Kid (1941). This film had one fine chase sequence, but other- 
wise was boring, cliche-ridden, and not at all a suitable vehicle for the 
actor at that time. In the postwar period a more mature Taylor proved 
surprisingly suited to Westerns and appeared in half-a-dozen good ones 
for MGM. Gable, also "too valuable to be wasted" in Westerns in the 
Thirties and early Forties, made several for MGM, Fox, and United 
Artists in the postwar years. Spencer Tracy, a more rugged type, and 
Robert Young, regarded by MGM as a second-string Taylor, teamed in 
Northwest Passage. Directed by King Vidor in 1940, it was hardly a 
Western in the accepted sense, but worthy of note here inasmuch as 
MGM at that period was making so few films even casually related to 
the Western. A spectacular adaptation of the first of Kenneth Roberts' 
two novels on Rogers' Rangers, it was to be followed by an adaptation 



of the second, and more interesting, book dealing with the actual search 
for the Northwest Passage, but this second film was never made. North- 
west Passage has a place in the general history of the Western for being 
one of the most viciously anti-Indian films ever made. Hatred for the 
Indian is apparently justified only by a sequence in which Indian tor- 
tures of a particularly revolting nature are described by a member of 
Rogers' Rangers, a man whose brother was put to death by the Indians. 
The motivating factor for the Rangers' raid is revenge, and the raid is 
actually a carefully planned massacre, in which Indian men, women, 
and children are wiped out ruthlessly. The Indian's side of the question 
is never presented, and the only sympathy shown for the Indian is 
achieved in barbaric, if not perverse fashion. One of the Rangers, hav- 
ing gone mad with hatred of the Indians, sustains himself through a 
period of near-starvation by secretly eating from the severed head of an 
Indian he had hacked to pieces during the massacre. Despite this bar- 
barism, the audience's sympathies are directed to the plight of the poor, 
mad white man (who subsequently kills himself) rather than to the 
Indian victim of such atrocities. 

Such "specials" as Northwest Passage and Billy the Kid apart, MGM 
almost totally ignored the Western in the early Forties. There was a half- 
hearted attempt to make a group of minor "A" historical Westerns with 
James Craig {The Omaha Trail, Gentle Annie), but these were unusually 
incompetent films, sadly lacking in action, and they were soon dis- 
continued. Probably MGM used this handful of lesser Westerns as a 
training ground for new talent; then, too, every studio needed a few 
co-features for their more important pictures. 

William Wyler's The Westerner (1940) 
with Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan. 

At other studios some interesting Westerns were being made. Kit Carson 
was one of these, directed by that old serial maestro, George B. Seitz, 
for United Artists. Its spectacular Indian attack sequence, almost a full 
reel of large-scale, well-organized mass action, was one of the best things 
of its kind since The Big Trail. And at a time when Indians were being 
depicted in the conventional fashion as unmotivated savages, this film 
made quite a point of stressing the inhumanity of the treatment meted 
out to them by the Army. Unfortunately, Kit Carson seems to have had 
financial difficulties; apparently the money ran out and the last reel was 
finished off very cheaply, robbing the film of a dramatic last punch. 

One of the most outstanding Westerns of this period was William 947 

Wyler's The Westerner, a strange, moody, unevenly paced vehicle for 

Gary Cooper. Its austerity and unglamorous picture of the West made it the forties 

unpopular. Judge Roy Bean, one of the old West's most colorful char- 
acters, as played by Walter Brennan, emerged as a much more interest- 
ing protagonist than hero Cooper; indeed, Bean later became the central 
character of a popular television series. Intelligently cast, the action 
content unusually well handled (the fights were often clumsy, as they 
should be when farmer fights cowhand, and as they seldom are when 
Western star fights stunt man), The Westerner was a serious work, indeed. 

Columbia's Western record in the period is a peculiar one. Like Par- 
amount the company was expert at turning out slick, action-packed 
"B" Westerns; like Paramount, too, Columbia seemed unable to trans- 
late that expertise into the making of their large-scale Westerns. Arizona, 
made for Columbia by Wesley Ruggles as his first epic since Cimarron, 
was a large, ambitious undertaking in the old style of Vidor and Grif- 
fith. It told an important story — the development of Arizona — on a 
vast, sprawling canvas. It had the integrity neither to glamorize nor to 
introduce action for its own sake. Its careful reconstruction of the old 
mud-adobe town of Tucson has been preserved by the State of Arizona 
as a historical monument. Some sequences were beautifully staged and 
photographed: using miles of telephone wire to boom his instructions 
over a vast area, Ruggles created a memorable panorama of the people 
of Tucson watching the Union troops withdraw, their ranks spread over 
miles of country, burning the wheat fields as they leave. Yet despite such 
great moments, Arizona was an even duller film than Wells Fargo. It 
seldom moved or inspired, and thus it lost the epic quality that had dis- 
tinquished Ruggles' Cimarron. 

Possibly the fault lay with the original story by Clarence Buddington 
Kelland, better known as the creator of Scattergood Baines, a home- 
spun small-town philosopher, than as a writer of national epics. It out- 

lined the early history of Arizona by telling the parallel story of one of 
that State's pioneer women, a rugged opportunist named Phoebus 
Titus, rugged, yes, if the script can be relied upon, but not of sufficient 
stature to warrant being used as the symbol of a State's growth. 

Columbia took no chances with subsequent epics: Texas was all action, 
as were Desperadoes and Renegades. Somehow ever since, Columbia's large- 
scale Westerns have looked like expanded "B" Westerns, despite Tech- 
nicolor and important star names. 

John Ford's further contributions 

Twentieth Century-Fox's output of Westerns in the Forties was not ex- 
ceptional. The "B" films were limited to a series of Cisco Kid adven- 
tures with Cesar Romero, none particularly remarkable, and four Zane 

Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea in The 
Great Man's Lady (1942). 

Hyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) greets his fiancee from 
the East (Cathy Downs) in John Ford's My 
Darling Clementine (1946). 

Grey films — Riders of the Purple Sage and The Last of the Duanes (both good, 
with George Montgomery), and Sundown Jim and The Lone Star Ranger 
(both weak, due largely to inept performances by ex-football star John 
Kimbrough). Fox's really big Westerns, Jesse James, and its sequel, and 
Western Union, have been mentioned earlier. There were many others, 
but few made a lasting impression. One of the most enjoyable was A 

Ticket to Tomahawk, a light-hearted film with some musical elements 
which still managed to treat its Western material seriously. It was in 
many ways a better film than the more highly touted Annie Get Your Gun, 
although the music, of course, was less ambitious. Harry Sherman's 
Buffalo Bill, directed by William Wellman, was far too sentimental, as 
was another Wellman Western of the same period, The Great Man's Lady, 
made for Paramount, but it was an interesting and colorful film. Its great 
battle — Indians and the cavalry fighting to the death in the middle of a 
shallow river — was certainly exciting and the spectacular staging was in 
large part responsible. Although readily recognizable because of its dis- 
tinctive locale, this complete battle sequence was re-used twice by Fox 
in the Fifties, once in Pony Soldier, and again a year or so later in Siege at 

A scene from John Ford's Wagon- 
master (1950), one of the most 
poignant Westerns of recent times. 

Red River, one of Leonard Goldstein's "Panoramic Productions" for 
wide-screen. Critics with short memories were easily fooled. To a man 
they praised the battle scene that was over a decade old, and pointed 
out how much better wide-screen films could present this sort of mass 
action than the "old-fashioned" small screens! 

From the studio's rather routine assortment one outstanding film 
emerged in the period. It was John Ford's retelling of the Wyatt Earp 
legend in My Darling Clementine, adapted from the book Wyatt Earp, 
Frontier Marshall by Sam Hellman and Stuart Lake. The story had seen 
service before, of course, including a Fox version in 1939 (Frontier Mar- 


shall with Randolph Scott as Earp and Cesar Romero as Holliday) 
which contained several incidents repeated by Ford in his film. Among 
these was the capture in the saloon of a drunken Indian, played by 
Charles Stevens in both versions. Ford's account of Earp's story was lei- 
surely and effectively non-spectacular. The exciting action sequences, 
particularly a chase after a stagecoach and the climactic duel at the O. 
K. Corral, were filmed with authority, but action as such was not al- 
lowed to dominate the development, playing thus a relatively small 
part in the proceedings. Shot largely in Ford's beloved Monument 
Valley, the film was quiet, sensitive, and a visual delight, next to Wagon- 
2 en master perhaps the most satisfying of all Ford's Westerns. It was not an 

enormous commercial success, but it did prove popular enough, and the 
critics were almost unanimous in their praise. The New York Times re- 
marked: ". . . Ford is a man who has a way with a Western like nobody 
in the picture trade ... a tone of pictorial authority is struck — and held. 
Every scene, every shot is the product of a keen and sensitive eye — an 
eye which has deep comprehension of the beauty of rugged people and 
a rugged world. Fonda . . . shows us an elemental character who is as 
real as the dirt he walks on." And Time commented: ". . . horse opera 
for the carriage trade . . . [Ford's] camera sometimes pauses, with a fresh 
childlike curiosity, to examine the shape and texture of a face, a pair of 
square-dancing feet, a scrap of desert landscape, or sunlit dusty road. 
The leisurely lens — a trick Europeans frequently overdo and Hollywood 
seldom attempts — makes some of Ford's black-and-white sequences as 
richly lifelike as anything ever trapped in Technicolor." Victor Mature 
appeared as Holliday, with Walter Brennan and Tim Holt as the 
leaders of the Clanton clan. 

Ford's three subsequent large-scale Westerns (for Argosy, releasing 
through RKO) were Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), 
and Wagonmaster (made in 1949, but not released until 1950). She Wore 
A Yellow Ribbon, unashamedly sentimental, strikingly photographed in 
vivid Technicolor, is regarded by many as the most typical Ford West- 
ern of all, although the far less elaborate black-and-white Wagon- 
master, a Western almost completely neglected, was a much superior 
production. The values of Wagonmaster have been rather distorted by 
Europe's John Ford "cult" (with its headquarters seemingly in and 
around London's Sight and Sound publication) which has blown it up 
into an Odyssey and read into it values — and meanings — that Ford 
doubtless never intended. Wagonmaster is a beautiful little film, Ford 
expressing his love of both the West and the Western film, using incred- 
ibly lovely images and a moving score of Western hymns and folksongs 

to pay tribute to the old Westerner as an individual, not as just one of a 
special breed of men, or as a crusader for national progress. Wagon- 
master is as close to a genuine Western film-poem as we have ever come, 
but attempts by Ford's admirers to enlarge it beyond that do both 
it and Ford a disservice. Wagonmaster is a film that should be seen, felt, 
and, above all, fairly evaluated. 

A social Western: The Ox-Bow Incident 

Fox's other outstanding Western of the Forties was William Wellman's 

The Ox-Bow Incident, adapted by Lamar Trotti from the novel by Walter 251 

Van Tilburg Clark. The sheer power and dynamism of the film derive 

directly from the original novel, which is followed faithfully but for minor THE forties 

details. This is no discredit to the picture, but critical appraisal has tended 

to shift emphasis and credit to the contributions of Trotti and Wellman. 

Wellman's direction was certainly very competent; he had a subject to 

which, for the first time since his powerful early Thirties' films (Beggars 

of Life, Public Enemy) he could really devote all of his considerable 

talents. He created powerful images, stark characters, disturbing thoughts 

— or rather he refected them, for they all were inherent in the original 

work. He added little creativity of his own, but certainly the film would 

have been a lesser film with another director at the helm, for another 

director might have overlooked the power, starkness, and significance of 

the original source. 

The story is a grim and depressing one. A posse takes out after a gang 
of cattle thieves. Some members of the posse are ranchers who have a 
right to be concerned; others are drifters, suddenly sucked into the 
frenzy and blood-lust; others still are men for whom the proposed lynch- 
ing provides an outlet for their own sadism, with the resulting guilt, if 
any, to apply to the group rather than to them as individuals. They 
corner three men (Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn, and Francis Ford) 
who could be guilty. But the evidence is only circumstantial, and the men 
violently protest their innocence, an innocence which they claim can be 
easily proved in a day's time. Their pleas sway some of the posse but 
the personal magnetism of the posse's leader, an ex-Confederate army 
officer, welds the bulk of the party into an organized force demanding 
the execution of the three men. At dawn the next day, still protesting 
their innocence, the victims are hung. After the lynchings, positive 
proof comes that the men were innocent. Although the sheriff who has 
brought this news declares that the executioners will be tried and 
punished, clearly, any such punishment can only be nominal. The in- 


stigating ex-officer, still without remorse for his sadistic act, commits 
suicide: it is the mistake he cannot abide. 

The Ox-Bow Incident was a surprising film to have been made in 1943, 
when the wartime trend, particularly at Fox, was to all-out escapism. 
The film was also made without any concessions to box-office standards. 
The hero and his friend (Henry Fonda and Henry Morgan) were 
hardly heroes in the accepted sense, being little more than ineffectual 
observers. The martyred men, too, were without heroic qualities. "Lov- 
able" character actress Jane Darwell played a cold-blooded woman 
rancher, fair-minded, but harsh and not easily given to sympathy or 
2co mercy. The comedy relief (Paul Hurst) was deliberately offensive. The 

only concessions, if any, were to sentimentality in the climax, a senti- 
mentality which tended to vitiate some of the tragedy's harshness. 
Great stress is laid, in the film as in the book, on a farewell letter that 
the leader of the doomed men writes to his wife. One of the posse, in 
sympathy with him, tries to use the letter to convince others that such a 
man could not be guilty, but he fails because the doomed man himself 
angrily protests its use for that purpose when its contents are so sacred 
to him and his wife. At no point in the book is the letter actually read 
or any of its contents divulged. In the closing scene of the film, however, 
as the disconsolate townspeople gather in the saloon, Fonda decides to 
read the letter to them. The result, inevitably, is a sad letdown, and a 
weak anti-climax. In moments like these the screen treatment fell far 
below the literary and dramatic standards set by the novel. 

One other film, Lewis Milestone's Of Mice and Men (1939), provides a 
perfect example of the successful adaptation of such material to the 
screen. Milestone's film was a minutely faithful adaptation of Stein- 
beck's novel, but it was also a completely separate entity as a film. It 
can be judged as a piece of film art quite divorced from its origins, while 
The Ox-Bow Incident, an important and courageous film certainly, has an 
artistry which merely duplicates, never transcending that of the original 
work. This achievement in itself is so rarely accomplished that such a 
statement is automatically praise rather than criticism, but The Ox-Bow 
Incident has been so highly praised on its own ground that it is perhaps 
time to restore the balance. 

Trotti and Wellman, incidentally, tried to recapture much of the 
spirit of The Ox-Bow Incident in their later, more conventional Western, 
Yellow Sky, with Gregory Peck, Anne Baxter, and Richard Widmark. 
Some situations, much of the stark atmosphere, and the opening sequence 
(cowboys lazily surveying a painting of a plump nude in the town's 
saloon) were repeated in toto. 

Parodies and satires 

In the Forties, with the phrase "adult Western" still almost twenty 
years away, Westerns were sophisticated enough to stop taking them- 
selves so seriously and to start poking fun at themselves. This was not 
an entirely new development, of course. Well before 1920, Mack Sennett 
had kidded Westerns mercilessly in satires like His Bitter Pill, and Fair- 
banks had genially poked fun at the cult of the Western hero. But al- 
though there had been a great many films of this sort, they could not 
be said to represent a trend any more than it could be said of Ruggles of 
Red Gap or Laurel and Hardy's Way Out West in the Thirties. But in 1939, 
such a trend did begin with Universal's Destry Rides Again, directed by 
George Marshall. Its success can doubtless be explained by its very defi- 
nite novelty and for the opportunity it gave Marlene Dietrich to dis- 
play the talents she had made famous. It was a "different" Western, cer- 
tainly, but the differences made dyed-in-the-wool Western devotees 
shudder, especially those who recalled with pleasure the old Tom Mix 
version. To them the new Destry Rides Again seemed a betrayal of the 
Western, and their opinion has not changed with time; here is one case 
where nostalgia for the past has not worked its magic on the celluloid 
image. Quite to the contrary, the 1939 film seems slower and more 



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Anthony Quinn, Dana Andrews, and 
Francis Ford as the innocent victims of the 
lynch mob in The Ox- Bow Incident 

James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich have 
it out in Destry Rides Again (1939). 

A bbott and Costello with Doug- 
las Dumbnlle (center) and Iron 
Eyes Cody (right) in a bur- 
lesqued Western, Ride 'Em 
Cowboy (1942). 

pointless today, especially with a likable and intelligent third version 
around, starring Audie Murphy and released by Universal in 1955. 

Perhaps the one solid contribution of Destry Rides Again to Western 
films was a particularly fine score by Frank Skinner, one of the best ever 
composed for a Western, and put to good use by Universal in areas other 
than film ever since. The film also stimulated a certain levity towards 
the Western, and a number of satires resulted. Trail of the Vigilantes 
happily disposed of its somewhat witless lampooning in the first four reels, 
and thereafter got down to the serious business at hand. Much of the 
action was admittedly tongue-in-cheek, but it was so well staged with 
all the customary Universal zip, that no one really minded. 

One of the most enjoyable of all Western satires was the Marx Brothers' 
Go West, which, combining Groucho's rapid-fire patter with Keatonesque 
sight gags, reduced to shambles Western plotlines, villainy, and action. 
Its climactic locomotive chase suggested a close study of Keaton's The 
General, and when it didn't score on its own fast slapstick or its wisecracks, 
is was making short work of Western plot and dialogue cliches. Even the 
inevitable romantic interest was played for its cliche value. No cycle of 
Western satires ever really evolved, however, although it soon became 
familiar routine for comedians to go through their established patterns 
against Western backgrounds (Jack Benny in Buck Benny Rides Again, 
Bob Hope in his two Paleface films and Fancy Pants, Martin and Lewis 
in Pardners, and Abbott and Costello, whose Ride 'Em Cowboy was one of 
the best of this species). 

Destry Rides Again (1939) did not influence these films directly, but its 
success must have induced producers to further explore the field of 
"novelty" Westerns and to settle, somewhat unimaginatively, for the 
broad comic approach. When deliberate satire was attempted, as in the 
King Brothers' The Dude Goes West, it was usually far too heavy-handed 
and less amusing than the purely slapstick approach. However, the 
tongue-in-cheek Western has enjoyed more of a vogue since 1939, and 
even stars like Gary Cooper {Along Came Jones), John Wayne {A Lady 
Takes a Chance, North to Alaska), and Rod Cameron {Frontier Gal) have 
taken a broad comic approach in certain Westerns, although it is per- 
haps no coincidence that these ventures were not among their most 255 
popular efforts. 

The "B" Western 

The Forties were characterized by the proliferation of "B" Westerns. At 
RKO, when the George O'Brien series came to a close early in the period, 
Tim Holt became the studio's leading cowboy. An excellent series of 
Zane Grey Westerns, initially with Bob Mitchum and later with James 
Warren, completed the field for that studio. At Universal, the Johnny 
Mack Brown series provided some of the best and fastest Westerns, full of 
action and made with excellent production values; particularly notable 
were the musical scores and first-class camera work (the running inserts 
and fast tracking shots in Universal's Westerns in general put to shame 
those of any other studio). Among the outstanding films were Desperate 
Trails, West of Carson City, and Riders of Pasco Basin. Stories were unified, 
but rarely remarkable; action was the key element and such directors as 
Ford Beebe, Ray Taylor, Lewis D. Collins, and particularly Joseph H. 
Lewis never failed to produce works of at least some interest. The camera 
placement and imaginative cutting in Arizona Cyclone (1941), for instance, 
made it not only one of the very best of its series, but also a model which 
demonstrated that real cinema sense and style could be injected into 
basically hackneyed material. Lewis used running inserts to excellent 
advantage, and his sweeping shots of chases in The Boss of Hangtown Mesa 
(1942) were exceptionally good. When the Brown series came to an end, 
Universal starred Tex Ritter and Russell Hayden in several films, pick- 
ing up Rod Cameron and later Kirby Grant. 

As in the Thirties, the best Paramount Westerns were the "B" West- 
erns of Harry Sherman, who brought the Zane Grey series to a close in 
1940 with Knights of the Range, with Russell Hayden and Jean Parker, 
and Light of the Western Stars. Thereafter, with the exception of a Tito 


Guizar Western, The Llano Kid, Sherman was to concentrate on the 
Hopalong Cassidy films and some Paramount "specials" with Richard 
Dix (The Round Up, Cherokee Strip, and Tombstone, The Town Too Tough To 
Die). Quality rose with the budgets when Sherman switched his distri- 
bution to United Artists. Buckskin Frontier was easily the best of all 
Sherman's Dix films, a fine "pocket Iron Horse," and an excellent example 
of how to make a relatively inexpensive Western look like an epic. It 
ran only seventy-five minutes, and its climax was a particularly exciting 
affair, with fine mass riding scenes, and a monumental knock-down, 
drag-out fight. The next film, The Kansan, made on an even larger 
or*? scale, was a more routine tale of a lawman cleaning up a wide-open town. 

After these two tales of action, Sherman's The Woman of the Town seemed 
the western both pretentious and ponderous, although Motion Picture Herald enthusi- 

astically reviewed it as a throwback to the great days of The Covered Wagon 
and the Bill Hart Westerns. Starring Albert Dekker, Barry Sullivan, and 
Claire Trevor, it told the story of newspaperman-lawman "Bat" Master- 
son in rather sentimentalized fashion. Later Sherman concentrated on a 
number of exraordinary Westerns, films like Ramrod (with Joel McCrea, 
Veronica Lake, Don DeFore, and Donald Crisp), directed by Andre de 
Toth, and Four Faces West (with Joel McCrea, Frances Dee, Joseph Cal- 
leia), directed by Alfred E. Green. The first was an austere, violent, sus- 
penseful story of a range war, the second a gentle and sensitive story of 
an outlaw on the run. Both were Westerns that William S. Hart would 
have endorsed, but both proved to be unsuccessful with audiences that 
wanted The Outlaw and Duel in the Sun. 

Sherman's plans for a series of big Westerns for Eagle-Lion never 
materialized; the company collapsed, and Sherman himself died soon 
after. He may have been a less dedicated creator than Hart, but he loved 
the West and the Western film just as sincerely. He frequently turned 
up in bits in his own Westerns, driving a mule team or a chuck wagon 
with obvious pleasure, having the time of his life behind a grimy shirt 
and a set of grizzled whiskers. 

In the late Forties, United Artists replaced the Hopalong Cassidy 
Westerns with a series of Cisco Kid Westerns, starring Duncan Renaldo, 
made by Krasne and Burkett. They had their lively moments, were fast, 
but they were cheaply made and generally inferior to another series 
which Monogram had just made. United Artists also had their share of 
the nondescript Westerns that were being made in such increasingly large 
quantities. Typical of these was Jules Levey's production of Abilene Town 
with Randolph Scott. It had some good action sequences, but a disap- 
pointing climax in which an expected battle failed to materialize. The 

critics noted that Randolph Scott looked tired and showed his age. They 
expected him to withdraw from the field momentarily. Instead, he had 
more Westerns ahead of him for Fox, Paramout, Warners, and Columbia 
than he had made to date! 

At Republic, in the meantime, the musical Westerns of Gene Autry 
and Roy Rogers rose to alleged half million dollar budgets; they placed 
undue stress on musical production numbers, and were eventually whit- 
tled down to normal size. Autry left Republic eventually, and Rogers, 
with his "King of the Cowboys" billing, became the studio's top Western 

Among other Republic Western series of the Forties (not, of course, 2^7 

all in production simultaneously) was The Three Mesquiteers. While the 

post- 1940 entries in this group were not as good as the earlier ones, it the forties 

nevertheless remained near the top of its category. Other series starred 
Bill Elliott, Sunset Carson, Monte Hale, Allen Lane, Donald Barry, 
and Eddie Dew. Bill Elliott became the chief rival to Autry, Rogers, and 
Boyd, the reigning Western kings for some time. Monte Hale was brought 
in as another singing cowboy to replace Rogers, in the event Rogers was 
drafted into the armed forces. Eddie Dew's tenure was brief: introduced 
initially as "John Paul Revere, the Gentleman Cowboy," he actually 
took second billing to comic Smiley Burnette in his Westerns. The films 
themselves were good, but Dew didn't catch on with the public and he 
was replaced by Bob Livingston. Sunset Carson was a big athlete, with 
a broad Southern drawl. His films were jammed with action, and were 
very fast-moving, but Carson himself was a poor actor, and his period 
of popularity was brief. (He wound up in a cheap series for Astor Pic- 
tures, shot on sixteen millimeter and blown up to thirty-five for theat- 
rical release.) Action was the one common denominator of the Republic 
"B" Westerns, but so expertly were they all made that despite the lack 
of script values, they avoided having the mass-production stamp all over 
them, just as the Johnny Mack Brown Westerns at Universal had done. 

The Westerns of PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation) were shoddy, 
cheap, carelessly made, badly photographed, and ineptly directed. Plot 
values were nonexistent for the most part, and since the casts were iden- 
tical in almost every film (Edward Cassidy as the heroine's father, 
Charles King, John Cason, Lane Bradford, Jack Ingram, Jack O'Shea, 
and Terry Frost as the villains, Bud Osborne as the sheriff, Stanford Jol- 
ley as the banker or saloon owner) it was virtually impossible to tell one 
film from the other! Only in their Eddie Dean Cinecolor Westerns did 
PRC devote real care. But Dean himself, although a good singer, was a 
poor actor with an unattractive face and singularly inept at action. 



PRC's pictures were rushed through so quickly that there was just no 
time for acting, for preparation, or even for retakes when mild mishaps 
occurred. On more than one occasion the hero missed his step leaping 
into the saddle, and the camera just kept on grinding while he then 
proceeded to mount in a more orderly fashion. One classic incident 
marked Gentlemen With Guns, a low-grade Buster Crabbe Western. The 
hero pursues the villain, and as he draws abreast of him, one or the other 
audibly cues, "One . . . two . . . three . . . HUP!," at which signal the 
hero's double leaps on the villain, and both fall, not to the ground, but 
to a soft mattress well within camera range! Not even the cheapest in- 
dependently made Western of the early Thirties would have let such care- 
lessness get by. The scripting was of an equally carefree order, it being 
sufficient for the villain to brush up against the hero, snarl, "I don't like 
your face!" and launch into an otherwise unmotivated fist or gun fight. 
During PRC's less than ten-year career, their Westerns starred Buster 
Crabbe, George Houston, Bob Livingston, Tim McCoy, Bob Steele, 
James Newill, Bill Boyd (another Boyd, not Hopalong Cassidy), Tex 
Ritter, Dave O'Brien, Eddie Dean, and Al "Lash" LaRue. A former 
adolescent player in the "Dead End Kids" vein, LaRue was a most un- 
attractive personality. His unusual walk and his hard-bitten, Bogart-like 
face made him more suitable for villain's than hero's roles. His "gim- 
mick" was an ability to crack a bullwhip realistically, performing simple 
tricks with it. It was a "gimmick" he needed, since he was a poor rider 
and required a double for most of his action scenes. PRC gave him Al 
St. John as a comic partner. Despite LaRue's shortcomings, his Westerns 
were otherwise competent, a notch above normal PRC standards. 

Unconvincing, standardized action 
in a cheap Western of the Forties, 
Fighting Vigilantes {1947), star- 
ring Lash LaRue {right) and for- 
mer Sennett comedian Al St. John 

Scriptless, witless, ad-lib knock- 
about cheapened many "B" West- 
erns of the Forties. Emmett Lynn, 
Charles King, and Al St. John in 
Colorado Serenade {1946). 

Undoubtedly the best series made by Monogram during these years 
was that known under the collective heading of "The Rough Riders." 
Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, and Raymond Hatton were starred as three 
veteran U. S. marshals. Possibly each film was a little too much like 
the other. Plots, which always gave the key role to Jones, were similar 
both in their construction (the three marshals work undercover, one of 
them poses as a member of the gang, all three finally join forces in the 
showdown) and in their by-play (a running gag in the series dealt with 
Hatton's attempts to get married and settle down). Although made 
quickly (in the space of a week or so) these films were well edited and 
offered fine photography, good acting, interesting action, and stunts. 

The first three films in the series, Arizona Bound, The Gunman from 
Bodie, and Forbidden Trails (with some exceptionally fine running inserts) 
were the best. The others still remained uniformly good. One of the series' 
assets was the stirring music, including a fine agitato, composed by 
Edward J. Kay, and the "Rough Riders' Song," played over the main 
titles, main titles which were superimposed over a freeze-frame from 
Ford's Stagecoach. The series was cut short by Buck Jones' death in the 
catastrophic Cocoanut Grove fire. Jones, safely outside, returned to help 
others and was finally overcome by the flames. 

Monogram then signed Johnny Mack Brown for another series, very 

much modeled on the Jones pictures. Brown, one of the very best of the 
post- 1930 Western stars, a fine action performer, with an extremely lik- 
able personality, was a better actor than most Western stars; he had 
played many straight dramatic roles opposite Greta Garbo, Joan Craw- 
ford, Mary Pickford, and other top stars of the late Twenties before 
switching to Westerns. He helped to make this series enjoyable at the 
very least, and Raymond Hatton, one of the few Western comedians who 
was primarily a character actor, and whose mild comedy fitted into the 
action without disrupting it, made a perfect foil. Together they made 
forty-five Westerns before Max Terhune, a much less interesting screen 
ogn personality than Hatton, took over. The series reached its peak between 

1944 and 1945, when Monogram's expansion was just beginning, and 
the western when even the "B" pictures reflected the upgrading of production values. 

The Brown films in this period held to the standards of the best of the 
"Rough Riders" films, with really polished production mountings, good 
scripts, and an abundance of action. This was also the peak period of 
the tough Dashiel Hammett-Raymond Chandler school of detective- 
mystery films, and perhaps unwittingly, some of the Brown Westerns 
seemed to reflect much of their spirit, particularly in terse, wisecracking, 
tough dialogue, and an abundance of really rough fisticuffs. It was dur- 
ing these years that "dirty" fighting, an inheritance from gangster films, 
crept into Westerns and stayed there. Possibly the best of the Brown 
Westerns for Monogram was the 1946 entry, The Gentleman from Texas, 
directed by Lambert Hillyer. 

Some commercial success was achieved with Jimmy Wakely, a hill- 
billy singer who had been in many Universal and Columbia Westerns 
as a specialty musical performer. Wakely himself was a shameless imi- 
tator of Gene Autry (he had been a member of Autry's radio troupe at 
one time), copying his costumes and his mannerisms. The Wakely West- 
erns were "streamlined" and smoothly made, but had little stature. 
However, they proved to be extremely popular in rural areas, where 
Wakely's hillbilly style, and the low-grade humor of Dub Taylor (the 
"unfunniest" of all Western comedians) and Lee "Lasses" White found 
a ready reception. One of the last of his series, Silver Trails, introduced a 
new Western star in Whip Wilson, who immediately went on to star- 
dom in his own series. Wilson, a rugged ex-rodeo star who could handle 
the action well enough, was more adept with the bullwhip than was Al 
LaRue, but he revealed himself as an indifferent actor. Some care was 
taken with his first pictures, but they soon degenerated; Wilson's star- 
dom was brief, for he came in at the beginning of the end, as far as the 
"B" Western was concerned. 

In this period Monogram completed the Tom Keene and Renfrew of 
the Royal Mounted series started in the Thirties. Monogram also produced 
a number of Cisco Kid adventures of which The Gay Cavalier, starring 
Gilbert Roland, was the best, a film true to the spirit and story of O. 
Henry's original conception. Beauty and the Bandit was another excellent 
picture. Roland's performance was unique in these films; he injected a 
note of sensitive sadness into what had hitherto been (and was again sub- 
sequently) a characterization of sheer bravado. Again, as seemed auto- 
matically the case in eight out of ten Western series, quality declined 
towards the end. Robin Hood of Monterey had standards far below those 
set by the earlier one; however, all of the Monogram Cisco Kid films 
with Roland were quite a few notches above the average. 

During the Forties, Monogram also made two quite successful efforts 
to repeat the success of the "Three Mesquiteers" Westerns. The initial 
try was an obvious take-off with a team known as "The Range Busters," 
with Ray Corrigan and Max Terhune, two of the original Mesquiteer 
team, and John King. The pattern, too, was very much along Mesquiteer 
lines as far as plots were concerned, but the films were much cruder 
than Republic's had been. They had plenty of action, but very little 
polish. There was also no real cohesion to the series, which switched from 
the old West to the new, and had the boys battling both Nazis, in Cow- 
boy Commandos, and Japanese, in Texas to Bataan. It was, however, an en- 
joyable minor series. The other series, "The Trail Blazers," was devoted 
to fast action and a maximum of stunt work, with old reliables such as 
Ken Maynard, Hoot Gibson, and Bob Steele in leading roles. The best 
film of this series was The Law Rides Again, carefully made, with plenty 
of fast and furious action. 

The Durango Kid Westerns, starring Charles Starrett in the role of a 
masked Robin Hood, was a series of fast action pictures, but one was 
too much like the other. They proved very popular, however, lasting 
until well into the Fifties. 



The Japanese and Nazis got quick and 
efficient handling in Westerns during the 
war. A scene from Texas to Bataan 

At Columbia, where the Bill Elliott and Charles Starrett Westerns 
had declined in quality and popularity, a new deal was ushered in with 
the signing of Tex Ritter and Russell Hayden, restoring pep and vitality 
to the studio's horse operas. The regular "B" features were supplemented 
by a string of dreadful so-called "musical Westerns" which were popular 
in rural areas, a market for which they were primarily intended, to be 
sure. Their "life" depended on hillbilly music and simple knockabout 
comedy provided by Slim Summerville, Andy Clyde, and other veteran 
comedians. These cacophonous works were happily abandoned when 
Gene Autry joined Columbia. His Westerns became more realistic in 
ngn style and omitted the big musical production numbers previously so 

much a part of his films. 
the western Autry's first, The Last Round Up, was also his biggest — and very prob- 

ably his best. It was an intelligent, well-directed Western, one of the most 
ambitious ever made as part of a so-called "B" Western series. It, and 
one or two subsequent Autry Westerns, had faint notes of social criticism 
in their plea for better conditions for the contemporary Indians, but 
these notes were never overplayed. The next two Autry films were not 
quite as good, but nevertheless still of a very high order (Loaded Pistols, 
Riders of the Whistling Pines). Later there were signs that it was un- 
economical to continue the series on such ambitious lines. A decision to 
produce them in Cinecolor was abandoned after only two pictures (The 
Strawberry Roan, The Big Sombrero), and thereafter Autry put out his films 
in Monocolor (black-and-white prints run through a sepia bath). Run- 
ning times were shortened. Nevertheless, until the end of the Forties, 
with such films as The Cowboy and the Indians, Mule Train, Riders in the Sky, 
and Sons of New Mexico, Autry did manage to maintain a reasonably high 

By the end of the Forties, however, "B" Westerns started to relinquish 
their hold on the field, as the time approached when they would become 
little more than memories, and part of a history. 

New trends in 

Jennifer > 

the postwar 

"The cinema seems to have been 
invented for the expression 
of the subconscious, 
so profoundly is it rooted in poetry. 
Nevertheless, it almost never 
pursues these ends." 


Siegfried Kracauer's book, From Caligari to 
Hitler, interestingly outlined how the post- 
World War I films of Germany reflected the 
crushed and disillusioned spirit of the Ger- 
man people. The basic value of the work, 
in view of the trends in German cinema of 
post-World War II, confirmed that many 
of his conclusions were not only correct, but 
also being repeated a quarter of a century 
later in an astonishingly like fashion. 

Surprisingly, these same trends began to 
appear in English and American films. 
Kracauer's theories were confined to the 
film expression of a defeated people. Great 
Britain and America were instead among 
the victors in the struggle; in 1918 their 
films had reflected only optimism, but in 
1945 they contained many of the same 
German introverted psychological examina- 
tions. And, as in Germany, those tendencies 
were channeled in America towards murky 
psychological dramas and mysteries that 
were combinations of violence and pseudo- 
psychiatrics {Somewhere in the Might, Murder 
My Sweet, Spellbound) and out-and-out sex 
dramas {Scarlet Street), while British films 
like Odd Man Out and Good Time Girl were 
even closer parallels to the defeatist films 
of Germany. 

The Western was by no means immune 
to these influences, and three new elements 
made their bow in the genre as a result of 
the postwar gloom and "psychology" that 
settled on American films. They were, in 
order of their appearance, sex, neuroses, 


and a racial conscience. All had been used as plot elements in Westerns 
before, but they had never succeeded in establishing themselves as inte- 
gral parts of the simple and uncomplicated Western tradition. At first 
the three new elements went their separate ways, but it was not long 
before they came together to produce an entirely new kind of Western. 
For example, Reprisal!, a Columbia Western made in 1956, with Guy 
Madison as an Indian who passes for white, with little commotion 
incorporated all three. 




Sex was the first element to establish itself, obviously because there had 
been precedents, and it seemed safe to tamper with the iron-clad Western 
tradition when the new product would sell so well. Destry Rides Again 
had abounded in raucous, obvious, and unerotic sex — and reaped a 
huge success. Howard Hughes' The Outlaw had used blatant sugges- 
tiveness, and the physical equipment of Jane Russell, as its sole advertis- 
ing angle. Its long trail of censorship hassles and the fact that it ^deliver 
the goods it advertised tended to obscure the fact that it was really a 
good Western in its own right. One of the better film biographies of 
Billy the Kid (no more accurate than the others, but less sentimental- 
ized), it would in fact have been a very good Western but for the obtrusive 
eroticism. The frequent tussles between Billy and Rio were not only 
blatantly suggestive, but also frequently sadistic. Some of the dialogue 
accompanying these sequences had an unexpectedly raw flavor, and the 
already abundant Russell bosom, further enhanced by an ingenious 
"heaving" brassiere designed by Howard Hughes, injected one more 
obvious erotic note. What angered so many opponents of the film was 
not the erotic emphasis alone, but the minimal importance of the woman, 

Rio (Jane Russell) ponders the only 
way "to keep Billy warm" in The 
Outlaw (1943). Jack Beutel as 
Billy the Kid and Walter Huston 
as Doc Holliday. 


IHI l'< IMWAR \V1 M I R\ 

A typical early Thomas Ince poster selling the old excitement and glamor 
of the West in an unrealistic, dime-novel fashion. Contrast this with the 
poster for The Outlaw in which action is referred to only in one minor 
catchline; the appeal is solely erotic. 

even on a sexual level. There is no sincerely motivated love story in 
The Outlaw, and Rio's role was more that of a machine gratifying lust 
than of a genuine object and subject of passion. Many looked upon 
the film as a deliberate insult to womanhood, specifically pointing out 
the scene in which Billy and Doc Holliday gamble and cannot decide 
whether the winner should take Rio or a horse. The higher value is ulti- 
mately placed on the horse, and the logical conclusion is drawn that in 
the West a woman was an enjoyable luxury, but a horse was an absolute 

The "Western" aspects of the film were, however, good in many 
respects. The lightning-fast draws of Billy the Kid in the film's fast and 
violent gun duels were well photographed; the backgrounds and simple 
sets had a convincing air to them. Veteran actors Walter Huston and 

Thomas Mitchell were fortunately on hand most of the time to com- 
pensate for the histrionic limitations of Beutel. One well-directed 
sequence had Doc Holliday (played by Huston) literally shooting pieces 
out of Billy's cheek and ears, and yet, despite its patent brutality, it was 
handled in a casual manner that made it seem far less sadistic than 
some of Billy's calculated mistreatment of Rio. 

The film's climax offered a surprising juxtaposition of defiance of, 
and compromise with, the prevailing Production Code. After an obvi- 
ously lengthy and initially forced sexual liaison between the two 
protagonists, there is a ludicrously casual reference to a marriage 
ogg performed by "that stranger on the white horse." This line was, of 

course, dubbed in later as a minor sop to protesting pressure groups, 
the western anc i m view of the preceding action, it is a ridiculous piece of dialogue. 

Yet even while authorizing such concessions, Hughes refused to change 
the film's ending, in which both transgressors (Billy the legal as well as 
moral offender, Rio at fault morally only) ride off into the sunset. A neat 
plot twist of writer Jules Furthman had Sheriff Pat Garrett (played by 
Thomas Mitchell), officially credited by all historians as the man who 
finally killed Billy the Kid, actually aiding in a deceptive plot by burying 
another body in Billy's name, fully aware of the fact that Billy had 
escaped. This fairy-tale ending has, of course, no basis in fact. In 
Hughes' film, outlaw and mistress (or wife, if one accepts the additional 
line) ride off in heroic, poetic silhouettes, the sort of fadeout normally 
reserved for builders of empires and men of otherwise manifest destiny. 
The film made producers feel that with certain concessions to censor- 
ship and enough production gloss to disguise a lack of taste, Westerns 
with large doses of sex could get by the censors. This was proven by the 
first big follow-up to The Outlaw, King Vidor's Duel in the Sun (1945). 

Duel in the Sun featured sex in such large doses that it was promptly 
nicknamed "Lust in the Dust" and encountered considerable censor- 
ship opposition; but, due no doubt to its "prestige" background (a top 
director and producer, all-star cast, first-grade writing, musical scoring, 
etc.) and a glossy presentation of erotic elements that in The Outlaw had 
seemed much cruder, it overcame this opposition without much difficulty, 
going on to become one of the top grossing films of all time. One of the 
few genuinely "big" Westerns in recent years, it had an epic sweep and 
scope almost in the Griffith tradition, a sweep that unfortunately was 
limited by a trite story of passion which took precedence over the more 
important theme of empire building in the early West. It replaced the 
happy ending of the novel with a starkly tragic ending, but this 
may well have been a move to forestall censorship. There were traces of 

the racial theme, too, for the point was often made that the heroine was 
a half-breed, but the fact was used more for the exotic quality it lent 
to the love scenes than for any genuinely dramatic purposes. 

As a Western, Duel in the Sun contained many fine moments, some 
excellent performances, and exceptionally good photography. One 
better remembers the beautifully staged mass-riding sequences of the 
ranchers assembling to wreck the railroad than the sexual elements, 
which were manifest in the inevitable nude-bathing episode and several 
hard-breathing seduction scenes. Griffith was a frequent visitor to the 
set, and he and Vidor must have had some wry comments to make on 
the subordination of spectacle — of which they were past masters — to 
the titillations of sin and sex! 

If not a great film, Duel in the Sun was probably the very best film 
possible from such an approach and such a script; it certainly contained 
far more artistry and genuine merit than any of its successors. It is 
interesting to compare it to Vidor's subsequent Western, Man Without a 
Star (1955). 

The approach was basically the same: an emphasis on sex, attempting 



Gregory Peck, the lecherous "hero," 
and Jennifer Jones, the good but 
weak and sensual heroine, in Duel 
in the Sun {1945). 

to give it "stature" by placing the erotic aspects against an impressive 
background, in this case, the struggles of the cattle barons in Texas' early 
days. But in the ten years between the two Vidor pictures a sort of decay 
had set in. The sex had become more blatant, less seriously motivated; 
while one could believe in and understand the desperate affair between 
Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones in Duel in the Sun, the mutual seduction 
of Jeanne Crain and Kirk Douglas in Man Without a Star was both uncon- 
vincing and almost unmotivated, in fact a merely clumsy contrivance, 
created not out of plot necessity, but out of the arbitrary decision to stress 
sex for its own sake, with the entire affair treated as a huge joke. 
njf) This levity extended even to deliberately poking fun at the bath as 

a sex-symbol. The bathtub in American films has assumed the same sort 
the western of sexual association as the bed in French films. The bathtub is, of 

course, a somewhat anemic symbol, since its immediate association is 
with nudity rather than with sex, but perhaps this is appropriate because 
eroticism in American movies since the moral "purge" in 1933 has been 
anemic anyway. As a result of Cecil B. De Mille's exploitation of rather 
pointless bathtub scenes, and the use of the bubbles, showers, and sundry 
other species of the bath as a never-fail prop for cheesecake publicity 
stills, the bathtub has become Hollywood's principal inanimate symbol 
— the human body being quite animate — for the suggestion of sex, 
supplemented, of course, by a monotonous reliance on unmotivated beach 

Man Without a Star, which kidded sex, did so, at least partially, by 
kidding its symbol, but the bathtub gags became rather strained after 
a few reels. The use of a bathtub for mildly "sexy" scenes in Westerns 
was, of course, not uncommon before Man Without a Star. Kit Carson 
(1940) included a robust scene in which Jon Hall (Carson) and his 
cronies unknowingly share a communal bathhouse with heroine Lynn 
Bari, the two sexes being separated by a small wooden partition. When 
the soap slips under the partition, Jon Hall dives for it and the discovery 
is made. De Mille, of course, brought his familiar bathtub sequence into 
Unconquered, with Paulette Goddard up to her neck in suds, and there 
were other similar scenes. But the idea was usually handled casually 
and in good taste. Vidor's attempts to simultaneously exploit and satirize 
the traditional formula misfired, and far more genuine humor was to 
be found in John Ford's The Searchers (1956), in which a refreshing switch 
was made: unseductive male (Jeffrey Hunter) in the bath and disinter- 
ested female (Vera Miles) as observer. 

Added to the superfluous sex was the heavy emphasis on sadistic 
brutality, manifested principally in fight scenes and beatings, in which 

the protagonists were ripped with barbed wire. The introduction of 

physical barbarism was one more element incorporated into the 

Western's stock-in-trade since Duel in the Sun. The progression — or 

regression — from the one Vidor film to the other is not one that went 

in a straight line, influenced as it was by the "neurotic" and "racial" 

influences, but it is consistent in that the erotic element has steadily 

increased. The nude bathing scene of Duel in the Sun was a center of 

controversy at the time, being considered the very antithesis of the 

"healthy" Western. Today this same scene has become so contrived that 

it is taken for granted and generates less excitement than the more 

standard action that it often precipitates. For example, Yvonne de Carlo 271 

bathing nude in Shotgun (1953) provokes a violent brawl between 

Sterling Hayden and Zachary Scott. THE postwar western 

Shotgun was actually a remarkably good minor "A" Western, which 
to a degree anticipated Run of the Arrow in its presentation of the Apache 
Indians as both reasoning human beings and as cruel warriors. Expertly 
directed by Lesley Selander, it featured two grand fights and an unusual 
duel on horseback, Apache style, in its climax. Other assets included 
some exceptional color photography by Ellsworth Fredericks (who later 
achieved his peak in William Wyler's Friendly Persuasion) and an inter- 
estingly off-beat hero. Sterling Hayden was by now fairly familiar as 
the rugged, hard-bitten Westerner, but there were added nuances in 
his role this time. For a "hero," he was frequently callous, when cal- 
lousness served a justifiable end, and his drab sweat-soaked costume 
was utterly appropriate for his role as a lawman on a long and lonely 
mission. There was, of course, the customary quota of the "new" 
cliches, centered principally on sadistic violence (the killing of a sheriff 
with a shotgun fired full in the face, an outlaw trussed up in an elab- 
orate rattlesnake trap, the slow death of semi-villain Zachary Scott, 
pinned to a tree by an Indian spear through his stomach — hero 
Sterling Hayden provides him with a gun with which Scott subsequently 
kills himself — and the aforementioned duel) and sexual emphasis (fre- 
quent references to the girl's somewhat doubtful past — she is character- 
ized as a dance-hall girl who has "been around," which in Westerns is 
synonymous with prostitution — heated love scenes between hero and 
heroine, and especially a nude bathing scene). 

Nudity, of course, still sells, and many of the advertising campaigns 
of Westerns containing nude bathing episodes have been built around 
that ingredient. Independent Westerns like The Oklahoma Woman, The 
Yellow Tomahawk, and Flesh and the Spur seemed to have been made for 
no other purpose. This form of cinematic expression reached its logical 

The Stagecoach Hold-up. 

ultimate in The King and Four Queens in which, reversing the usual pro- 
cedure, hero Clark Gable is discovered bathing "in the altogether" by 
one of the film's four heroines. The King and Four Queens, incidentally, 
is dedicated entirely to the proposition that sex is the ingredient that 
matters most in the modern Western. The film has literally no action, 
concerning itself exclusively with the romantic dalliances (always 
frustrated) of Gable with four lonely widows. In this way it defeated 
itself; in the golden pre-Code era, considerable fun would have been 
extracted from such a situation. Today, the watchful Production Code 
prevents the ultimate in humor from emerging. Since the film has noth- 
074 ing else to offer, it falls flat, innocuously and pointlessly. However, this 

inflated stress on sex has brought with it a more realistic presentation 
the western of men and women, now people presented again in the realistic fashion 

of William S. Hart. Hart's realism was, of course, achieved differently, 
but in the modern Western, the depiction of men and women with 
normal (and even often abnormal) drives, has gone far toward knocking 
them from their pedestals of purity. 

A minor "A" Western from Columbia, Three Hours to Kill, presented 
the unusual — for a Western — situation of the hero (Dana Andrews) 
returning home after many years to find that a casual affair he had had 
before he left has made him the father of the heroine's child. Nor did 
"tidy" scripting bring this to the expected happy ending. In recent 
years, too, more than one Western hero (Glenn Ford in Jubal) has him- 
self been an illegitimate child. Columbia's Jubal (1956) typifies the 
increasingly dominant place that sex is taking in the Western. The 
film, which incidentally aimed a few arrows (none-too-barbed) at reli- 
gious intolerance, is primarily a story of lust rather than of crime, 
pursuit, empire-building, or any of the other staple ingredients of 
Western film. The middle-aged rancher (Ernest Borgnine) finds his 
appetite for his young wife (Valerie French) never satisfied; she, in turn, 
is both a tramp and a nymphomaniac, who finds his attentions boring. The 
woman, who is also the mistress of ranch foreman Rod Steiger, suddenly 
switches her attentions to a wandering cowhand (Ford). The latter, in 
turn, rejects her seductive advances and expresses an ardent love for 
the virginal daughter (Felicia Farr) of the leader of a religious sect! 
From this welter of repression and frustrations comes a very heavy- 
breathing tale of lust, murder, and general neurosis. 

With the exception of minor and fairly infrequent realistic touches, 
the invasion of the Western by sex has been a commercial, rather than 
an aesthetic, advantage. There is no great merit in having Maria 
English bathe nude in Flesh and the Spur, less still in an even more sug- 

gestive sequence where she is staked out on an anthill, but unfortunately 
the lesser Western has arrived at a point where only that type of con- 
tent will give it the pitch it needs to sell, in the mind of some producers, 
at least. 

Is it merely a coincidence that some of the best Westerns of recent 
memory — particularly John Ford's superlative Wagonmaster (one of the 
few sound Westerns to really deserve the description, "poetic") and 
George Stevens' Shane — have still been Westerns basically in the old 
mood, stressing the austerity of the frontier, and telling their stories in 
a superbly pictorial manner? The other Ford Westerns of the same pe- 
riod {Fort Apache, Rio Grande, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers) and, 
to a lesser degree, Zinnemann's High Noon, Jacques Tourneur's simple 
and very pleasing Wichita, and John Farrow's Hondo, were also devoid 
of sensational eroticism and, significantly, can be counted among the 
best Westerns of the period. Perhaps the most graphic demonstration 
can be made by comparing two somewhat lesser films made by the 
same director for the same studio, lesser films, that is, in terms of budget 
and industrial importance, but not necessarily in merit. 

Western heroines had come 
a long way since the days of 
such silent screen stars as 
Barbara Kent {above). 

The first, Panhandle, was made for Allied Artists in 1947 by director 
Lesley Selander, at that time one of the expanding company's biggest 
pictures. A completely "pure" Western in terms of plot and tradition, 
as well as in a moral sense, it was a tale simply told. The boundaries 
between good and evil were as obvious as they had been in The Cov- 
ered Wagon and The Iron Horse, and the action was not markedly original, 
although exceptionally well executed. Russell Harlan's photography 
was in the same extremely able, but not showy, vein. In many ways it 
was a very fine film, and quite superior to the many larger-scale West- 
erns that star Rod Cameron made for Universal and Republic. Selander 
nna followed up with another for Allied, Stampede; not quite as good, and with 

rather too many "trimmings" in terms of plot ramifications and super- 
the western fluous characters, but again an intelligent and traditional horse opera. 

These two films were both made prior to 1950, when the sex "gimmick" 
had already begun to catch on. When Selander made Cow Country for 
Allied in the early Fifties, a regression was all too obvious: to the still 
basically straightforward plotline sex, brutality, and a hint of an evalu- 
ation of racial relationships had been added. The erotic material re- 
volved primarily around pretty Peggie Castle, an old hand at this sort 
of thing, who was systematically seduced by one of the villains; when he 
ultimately refused to marry her, she took a bullwhip to him in a 
sequence which looked most striking on the promotional material, but 
was no help in repeating the success of the earlier and far superior 


"Neurotic" Westerns such as Pursued and The Furies as a species in them- 
selves had a short life, but when the erotic was added as it was in Joan 
Crawford's ludicrous Johnny Guitar, or when racial themes were injected 
(primarily dealing with the Indian, of course), such films continued to 
be made. Some Westerns in the immediate postwar era were straight 
psychological dramas, not always too convincingly transposed to the 
West, which reflected much of the fashionable pessimism then so preva- 
lent in European cinema. One of the most typical was Warner's Colorado 
Territory, which, with a little dramatic license, one might compare to 
Marcel Game's story in his Les Portes de la Nuit. Hero and heroine seemed 
pursued throughout by an inevitable and malevolent destiny: circum- 
stances were always against them; and despite their innate goodness and 
a determination to "go straight," it was just not to be. And the gloomy 
ending exactly paralleled the final scenes of Carol Reed's Odd Man Out; 

cornered by the sheriff's posse, the heroine shoots at the pursuers, de- 
liberately draws the posse's fire, and she and hero Joel McCrea die in a 
bullet-ridden embrace. 

Another Warner film of the same era, Pursued, came to a happier end- 
ing, after having taken an equally depressing route. This film took ad- 
vantage of dream images and dialogue borrowed from current psy- 
chiatry. More interesting — and one of the best of its kind — was a strange 
Western entitled The Capture. Starring Lew Ayres and Teresa Wright 
under the direction of John Sturges, it was a well written modern West- 
ern set in a little mining community. It dealt with a basically decent 

man's struggle with his conscience upon realizing that he has killed a 277 

man unintentionally. While admitting to the illegality of his act, he 

questions whether he was morally wrong, taking refuge in flight. It was THE postwar western 

one of the few Westerns to take as its main concern the question of 
a killing under extenuating circumstances and the responsibility of the 
individual to decide for himself the extent of his guilt in a land where 
lawlessness is fairly common. As in so many films of this type, the con- 
clusion was far too facile, but the journey to that disappointing end of 
the road was a most rewarding one. 

Henry King's much-imitated The Gunfighter (1950) introduced some- 
thing of Greek tragedy into its story of an outlaw's last hours. It also 
brought what soon became a new cliche to Westerns: the motif of the 
inheritance of a killer's mantle, the compulsion of young "punks" out to 
make a name for themselves to shoot and kill (preferably, for greater 
glory, in a fair fight) a feared gunman, and to then find themselves fac- 
ing the knowledge that the same fate awaits them. This thematic cliche 
has turned up with startling rapidity since King's film, which, inciden- 
tally, was a far more stylish and intelligent film than one had come to 
expect from this veteran actor-director from the early days of silents, a 
man who had once established himself as a leading creator of Americana 
in silent films like Tol'able David, and sound ones like the Will Rogers 
version of State Fair. But Romola and Stanley and Livingstone, as well as 
Jesse James among his few Westerns, were typical spectaculars with noth- 
ing very cinematically creative about them, and thus it was somewhat 
of a surprise when King made The Gunfighter and Twelve O'Clock High 
(not a Western), both fine, mature films, within a few months of each 

In films whose theme has been that of the young hoodlum out to make, 
his reputation by killing a wanted man, sympathy has always been 
with the older outlaw and almost never with the younger would-be 
fighter, who is invariably presented as sadistic or maladjusted. While 

The youngster "out to make a name for himself" 
is killed by the reluctant gunfighter. Harry Shan- 
non, Gregory Peck, and Skip Homeier (on the floor) 
in The Gunfighter {1950). 





" ■"''. 


■c* **^ • 

m / 

this in a sense whitewashes the older outlaw, especially since he is also 
presented as a man weary of killing, aware that he is doomed, at the 
same time notions of violence for glory's sake and the temptation to take 
the law into one's own hands are heartily condemned. But in essence, 
one is asked to sympathize with a killer and to reject a man whose actions, 
if not motivations, will benefit law and order! 

Of all the films based on this idea (and one of the most recent super- 
Westerns to include it rather gratuitously was Gunfight at the 0. K. Corral, 
directed by John Sturges) only one, The Desperado, presented the picture 
of a normal and likable young man becoming a gunman and giving it 
up when the circumstances which provoked it no longer applied. Despite 
its originality, The Desperado was nevertheless very much part of a cycle 
that began with The Gunfighter. The youngster, convinced that an out- 
law's life is a foolish one, returns home; the older outlaw, unrepentant 
and unpunished, although, of course, his major crimes took place before 
the film opens, continues on his lonely way, expecting death from an as- 
sassin's bullet, or arrest by the law, to bring his career to a close. 

Henry Hathaway's Rawhide was a film with a similar mood, a more 
conventional plot, and a conglomeration of neurotic and sadistic villains. 
It was an interesting work, but Hathaway is better served by sweeping 
action than by "complexes." Making the most consistent contributions 
to what one might facetiously term "le Western noir" was Anthony 

Mann, a director brought up on hard-bitten city thrillers. His heavy, 
pretentious approach was well suited to a Western like The Furies, which 
he made for Paramount. A strange, gloomy affair, with touches of both 
Eugene O'Neill and Daphne du Maurier, Mann gave it the ultimate in 
low-keyed lighting, somewhat turgid pacing, and oppressive angling of 
the sets. Unfortunately, he persisted in this approach with Westerns 
which had less neurotic content. Somehow the trick worked on his 
black-and-white Westerns; Winchester 73 was an extremely satisfying 
horse opera, but as soon as Mann moved into Technicolor Westerns 
{Bend of the River, The Naked Spur, The Far Country) the pretentiousness and 
the artifice showed through the gay surface of the prints. 

A film very much in the Anthony Mann mold was Track of the Cat, 
with Robert Mitchum, another strange, moody Eugene O'Neill-flavored 
Western directed by William Wellman. Its title was largely symbolic, 
and the mountain lion, or "cat," though an important plot factor, was 
never actually seen and assumed near-mystical proportions, representing 
different emotions to each man who tracked it. 

Certainly one of the most off-beat Westerns ever made, it utilized 
Cinemascope with intelligence and made surprising use of color, with 
blacks and whites still predominating. In its slow, deliberate pacing, 
most notably in a grim burial sequence, photographed in a foreboding 
manner from the coffin as it is lowered into the ground, it more resembled 
the style of Carl Dreyer than the taut, deliberately harsh style Wellman 
had set in The Ox-Bow Incident and Yellow Sky. 



Doc Holliday {Kirk Douglas) and 
Wyatt Earp {Burt Lancaster) walk 
toward the gunfight at the O.K. Corral 
in the 1956 reconstruction of that 
famous gunfight of 1870 in Tombstone, 



A psychological approach to a Western seems effective when it is al- 
lied with a traditional Western theme, as it was in The Gunfighter, but 
when the background is merely incidental to a story that could equally 
well take place in a city or on a desert island, that background of healthy, 
uncomplicated, outdoor life seems to make the complexity of the pro- 
tagonists' problems appear both contrived and unimportant. 

A Warner Technicolor Western, Barricade, seemed to possess quite 
astonishing vigor in its mixture of neuroses, sex, and violence — until one 
realized why. The film was a careful remake of Jack London's The Sea 
Wolf, meticulously transposed from ocean to plain, from ship to gold mine, 
but otherwise unchanged, with Raymond Massey performing ably as 
London's satanic villain. 

Sheer neuroses found it harder than sheer eroticism making headway 
irfco "B" Westerns. Films like The Tall Texan and Little Big Horn had their 
psychological complications, but there was no indication that tortured 
psychological Westerns could ever hope to be as popular as the erotic 
Western, or even as popular as the old-fashioned straight-action horse 
opera. The purely psychological Western — the term is usually camou- 
flage for a Western devoid of physical action, whether or not it is truly 
psychological — has been largely limited to a handful of medium-budget 
lesser "A" Westerns. 

Alfred Werker's At Gunpoint, its lack of action rather pointlessly stressed 
by color and a wide Cinemascope screen on which nothing happened, 
drew rather too obviously on High Noon for its theme of civic responsi- 
bility. Its plot (a storekeeper becomes an overnight hero when he acci- 

A scene from Broken Arrow 

(J 950). 

dentally kills a bank robber and just as quickly is shunned by the 
townspeople when it becomes apparent that the outlaws plan to return 
for vengeance) was quite unusual and its use as a "hero" of a man with- 
out heroic or other distinguishing qualities was an interesting detour 
from well-worn paths. But a Western needs more than an unusual 
situation and an off-beat hero to sustain it, and At Gunpoint had nothing 
else. Even so, it was a more successful experiment than was Frank 
Sinatra's laborious and unconvincing Johnny Concho, a study of the re- 
generation of a bully and a coward. Not only was the "regeneration" 
facile and unbelievable, but the character himself was so unsympathetic 

that audiences could not reasonably be expected to care what became of 28 1 

him. Again, the High Noon theme of community responsibility was trot- 
ted out to save the "hero" in the film's "shoot-up" climax. the postwar wester 

Racial conscience 

The discovery that a "conscience" on racial problems can be profitable 
box office had been proved by Elia Kazan's Pinky and by other films 
dealing with the Negro question. It was not surprising, therefore, that 
the theme was exploited in the Western, especially since the "Indian 
question" was far less touchy and controversial. To Fox's credit the film 
that really started the Indian racial cycle, Broken Arrow, was no catch- 
penny "quickie." It was, in fact, a sincerely motivated, excitingly told 
story, based on fact, of the early misunderstandings between the whites 
and the Indians. Written and directed by Delmer Daves, always one of 
the most talented (and least recognized) Hollywood directors, it was a 
moving and sensitive film with some breathtakingly beautiful camera 
work; the sequence of the wedding between white man and Indian 
princess was exquisitely done. 

Broken Arrow not only presented the Indians for the first time in years 
as sympathetic human beings with a genuine grievance, but it set a vogue 
for Indian heroes (Jeff Chandler played Cochise) which has been con- 
tinued ever since. However, the film did not entirely have the courage 
of its convictions — or perhaps had Production Code jitters. Whatever 
the reason, the idyllic marriage between frontiersman James Stewart 
and Indian princess Debra Paget was not allowed to flourish. The wife 
was conveniently killed off in skirmishing towards the film's close, a few 
weak lines of dialogue insisting that her death was not in vain because 
it had brought Indian and white closer than ever before. Just how, was 
not explained, but for the next few years, Indian brides of white men 
were doomed to die before the final reel. Now, changing tastes seem to 


have permitted at least a few Indian brides to survive! 

Prior to Broken Arrow, there had been no concerted effort to present 
the Indian sympathetically since the early days of Ince and films like 
The Heart of an Indian. Such films as Ramona, Massacre, and The Vanishing 
American were exceptions rather than the rule, and in any case they 
were more concerned with telling dramatic individual stories than with 
pleading the Indian's case. True, the Indian was not always presented 
as a hostile savage, but even when he was shown sympathetically, he 
was merely portrayed as a childlike native. 

One of the standard "B" Western plots, that of The Law Rides Again, 
for example, concerned Indians threatening to take to the warpath 
again, usually because they were being cheated out of a few cattle by 
the western the local Indian agent. Hoot Gibson and Ken Maynard on most occasions 

managed to persuade them that the Great White Father in Washington 
was really their friend, proving it by restoring their stolen cattle. Indians 
as heroes were also hard to come by, although it was by no means uncom- 
mon for the hero to believe that he was an Indian (Buck Jones in White 
Eagle, for example), and to find out just before the fadeout that he was 
really a white man raised by the Indians, this revelation permitting him 
to marry the heroine after all. 

Broken Arrow changed all that, and a new trend resulted, one based 
on a racial conscience. Westerns such as Two Flags West, Tomahawk, and 
The Last Frontier were positively overrun with crooked traders who 
cheated the Indians and precipitated wholesale wars, and with neurotic 
Indian-hating officers who went out of their way to provoke bloody 
battles! Notable films that, in one way or another, belong in this cycle 
were William Wellman's quite individual and impressive film, Across the 
Wide Missouri (a Clark Gable vehicle that went through the same, but 
less publicized, difficulties as did The Red Badge of Courage and was 
finally presented in a much mutilated version), White Feather, and the 
quite gentle and pleasing Walk the Proud Land. The parade of routine 
"misunderstood Indian" epics was endless — from The Battle at Apache 
Pass (again with Cochise in the saddle) through Sitting Bull, Chief Crazy 
Horse, and The Savage. 

Interest in racial matters in the Western extended beyond the purely 
action subject. Broken Lance, in part, dealt with the prejudice against the 
Indian wife of a white rancher and her halfbreed son. This film was, in- 
cidentally, a remake of Joseph L. Mankiewicz's House of Strangers, which 
had dealt with Italian immigrants in America. There was also a marked 
decrease in the use of Negroes in Westerns; now that Westerns were 
stressing the equality of the races, they did not want to remind audiences 


of the still controversial Negro problem, and the faithful old Negro re- 
tainer, once a stand-by in Westerns, especially those with post-Civil War 
themes (e.g. Badmen of Missouri) became a thing of the past. For a while 
the Negro remained on the Western scene only in those horse operas 
made with all-Negro casts, and designed for exhibition in Negro theaters. 
There was, at one time, a fairly large market in the South, and in New 
York's and Chicago's Negro areas, for all-Negro pictures. These were 
usually limited to Westerns, with an emphasis on slapstick comedy and 
music (singer Herb Jeffries starred in a number of films), exuberantly 
religious features, often (to non-Negro eyes at least) in apparently very 

bad taste, and to particularly lurid sex-and-crime melodramas, of which 283 

a film magnificently entitled Dirty Gertie From Harlem is a typical example. 
Produced cheaply enough, these films nevertheless felt the pressure of 
rising production costs and declined in number, and, as in the case of 
the more orthodox "B" pictures, it was the horse opera that was the first 
to go. Now the all-Negro film concentrates mainly on musicals of the 
rock-'n-roll variety. 

With the withdrawal of the Negro, both as a type, and even as an in- 
dividual, from the Western, other national and racial types began to 
disappear. That old comic stand-by, the excitable Chinese cook or laun- 
dryman, invariably played by rotund Willie Fung, was an immediate 
casualty. Of course, when national and political temperament is right, 
racial types do still appear in Westerns: during World War II it was posi- 
tively amazing how many Nazis turned up on the "frontier" with plots 
to aid the Axis. Now, to a lesser degree, admittedly, it is an obviously 
Russian villain who occasionally seeks to upset Western justice. There is 
some mild justification in Western history for the use of a Russian 
heavy; at various times the Russians had projects of their own in both 
California and Alaska. Films like Raoul Walsh's The World in His Arms 
made rather obvious political capital of a plot involving a struggle be- 
tween Russian and Yankee on what was to become American soil. Some- 
what more incredible have been recent instances of "Communist infil- 
tration" into the West on some of television's "Texas Rangers" series. The 
villains here have done the cliche of being Russian one better; they turn 
out to be representatives of "satellite" nations, equally bent, of course, 
on overthrowing the government. 

41 *J 

The stuntman 

"To lose courage is to lose everything. " 



the second 

unit director 


The Western has relied for many years on 
two figures who have not received their due: 
the stuntman and the second unit director. 
The stuntman is a highly trained athlete, 
adept at rough and tumble work, everything 
from fisticuffs and spectacular leaps to falls 
from horses and high dives. Some stuntmen 
specialize in one particular branch of activity 
while others take on any job that might 
break another man's neck. If that neck be- 
longs to the star, the stuntman doubles in 
the individual action sequences. The second 
unit director, often a former stuntman him- 
self, directs the staging of the action se- 
quences, usually working independently of 
the film's official director. 

Both the stuntman and the second unit 
director were relatively late to arrive on the 
scene. There is certainly no evidence that 
either function had been established prior to 
1913; to the contrary, there is ample proof 
that early Westerns suffered due to the lack 
of these specialists. There was vitality and 
realistic action in many of the early West- 
erns, but even the best of them, including the 
films of Griffith and Ince, of course, fre- 
quently showed an unevenness which a 
stuntman or second unit director "might well 
have prevented. 

Falls from horses are, of course, essential 
to Western action scenes, but in the early 
days there were few actors capable of execut- 
ing stunts of this sort well. Indeed, there was 
little incentive to risk one's neck in a fall 
which wouldn't add a penny to an actor's 



pay; the "extra" was employed to play dead, not to be particularly 
acrobatic about being shot off his horse, and in many early Westerns the 
audience could see the Indians bringing their horses to a halt after hav- 
ing been shot; they could then tumble with far more safety from the 
saddle. Even "playing dead" seemed to tax the abilities of some extras; 
an early episode of The Perils of Pauline is plagued by a couple of "dead" 
Indians forever popping their heads up out of the grass to see what is 
going on. In Griffith's admirable film Fighting Blood, there are momen- 
tary lapses due to the lack of efficient stunt work. A settler, wounded 
while driving a wagon at full speed, stops the wagon and then tumbles 
to the dust. Earlier, the excitement of The Great Train Robbery had been 
lessened somewhat by the obvious use of dummies during the latter part 
of the fight on the coal tender, when the victims were thrown from the 
train: in later years, such a situation would automatically have called 
for stuntmen. 

Ince's stunt work — if one can term it that, for the phrase had not yet 
been born — was generally superior to that of Griffith for the simple reason 
that Ince specialized in Westerns and maintained a large crew of riders 
and cowboys, some of them rodeo trick riders who took riding stunts in 
their stride. The Woman (1913) had a particularly dangerous horse fall 
in a land rush sequence, so completely convincing and so obviously 
hazardous that it must be assumed that it was performed by a double 
for the heroine. 

Doubtless one reason for the delayed appearance of the stuntman was 
the equally delayed appearance of the star. The motivation for the use 
of a stuntman was the risk involved for the star in tricky bits of business, 
either because the star was not up to the stunt or — and this was the major 
factor — because the stunt risked injury to the star. An injured stuntman 
can always be replaced and the picture can proceed without delay; but 
an injury to the star inevitably halts or slows production, sending costs 
soaring. Initially, especially at Biograph, the star system was not permit- 
ted to develop, and no actor was considered so important that he could 
not participate in the action when the plot demanded. Because actors 
were expected to perform their own physical action in the early West- 
erns, really dangerous stunting was not written into the scripts by the 
writers or insisted upon by the directors. 

Recently, Spencer Gordon Bennet, one of the most prolific Western 
and serial directors, related how he had become unofficial stuntman in 
his first film, Edison's A Moment of Madness (1914), made in 1912 and 
not a Western. In one sequence, the heroine fell off a yacht and was in 
danger of drowning. The hero of the film, Edward Earle, could not 

Pioneer Scout (J 928) fea- 
tured this hazardous stunt scene. 

swim, and it had not occurred to anyone to use a double for him. So he 
rushed over to a nearby sailor, played by Bennet, and asked him to save 
the girl. Bennet performed the rescue and reunited the heroine with her 
not very athletic suitor. On the basis of this little anecdote (and a study 
of the film bears out Bennet's story) we can safely assume that in 1912 
the practice of doubling was, if not unknown, certainly still uncommon. 
The lack of and need for second unit directors was less apparent in 
Griffith's films than in Ince's, undoubtedly because sweeping action was 
such a Griffith specialty that it is doubtful if any subordinate director 
could have improved on his results. Griffith, however, did use assistant 
directors hidden away as extras in his crowd scenes. Each had his own 
bit of action to direct, action predetermined by Griffith who remained 
in overall control of the scene. Thus, mass action was guided from within 
as well as from without. This procedure can hardly be considered the 
real forerunner of second unit direction, but it indicates that Griffith 
already realized the value of delegating responsibility in action scenes. 
Second unit direction actually came into its own in the Twenties, partly 
because of the large increase in the number of spectacles, but also be- 
cause Hollywood had begun to veer away from mystery serials, placing 
greater stress on pure action content. Serials were usually shot by two 
or more units. The first unit, headed by the official director, con- 
centrated on the plot, the studio scenes, and footage with the stars. The 
second unit would, at the same time, be away on location with a group 
of stuntmen, grinding out the fast action. Careful editing later would 
weave the output of both units into one cohesive whole. 

B. Reaves Eason and Arthur Rosson 



Leading second unit directors were B. Reaves Eason and Arthur Rosson. 
Rosson worked on most of Cecil B. De Mille's pictures, while Eason was 
responsible for the mighty chariot race and much of the sea battle in 
Ben Hur (1926), "officially" directed by Fred Niblo. It is ironic that Ben 
Hur, in other respects a dull picture, is remembered only for these two 
sequences, and such De Mille films as The Plainsman, otherwise held in 
low regard, are redeemed in the eyes of the critics by the well handled 
action sequences. In other words, the only episodes that Niblo and De 
Mille did not direct are the ones that are held up as examples of prime 
contributions to the cinema! 

Rosson was with De Mille for some twenty years (one of his best crea- 
tions was the Battle of New Orleans for a film made in 1938, The 
Buccaneer), but by no means exclusively. He also staged the big Indian 
attack on the covered wagon train in Kit Carson and the cattle stampede 
in Howard Hawks' Red River. Much earlier in the silent period he had 
been both an individual stuntman and a full-fledged director for Tom 
Mix and Hoot Gibson. 

Many second unit directors who excel in their specialty, however, 
seem to have limited talent outside it. Eason's Westerns were lively, and 
a serial he directed, The Galloping Ghost, was a minor masterpiece of sus- 
tained stunting, but his dramatic talent was weak, and whenever the 
action lagged, he was an indifferent director. But his second unit contri- 

Gene Autry's double transfers to a 
stagecoach in Loaded Pistols (1949). 


butions, particularly in action involving horses, have been remarkable, 
ranging from the magnificent climax of The Charge of the Light Brigade 
of 1936 to the gathering of the ranchers in Duel in the Sun, the latter done 
in collaboration with another specialist, Otto Brower. Other typical 
Eason sequences: the splendid race between cavalry horses and a modern 
tank in Republic's Army Girl of 1938, a sequence that has been re-used 
as stock footage in many subsequent films; the jousting in The Adventures 
of Robin Hood, and the slapstick harness race in Ma and Pa Kettle at the 
Fair. Fast horse action remained Eason's specialty until his death in 
1956. Next to the aforementioned sequences in Ben Hur and The Charge 

of the Light Brigade, his best work was probably the re-creation of the Battle 289 

of San Jacinto in Man of Conquest made in 1939. The film itself, Republic's 
first attempt to break into the "super-Western" category, was an ex- 
tremely good one, rather unfairly neglected because it was not made by 
a major studio or with a prestige director (George Nicholls, Jr., directed). 
One of the best, and historically most accurate, films of its type, it dealt 
with the political and military career of Sam Houston (Richard Dix) 
culminating in the Texans' war of independence against the Mexicans, 
and the battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto. This last battle represented 
a triumphant union of stunt organization by Eason and stunt execution by 
Yakima Canutt's group of stuntmen. Starting with Houston's forces 
strung out in a long line, the sequence built rapidly into a magnificent 
charge as the Texans raced down a slope and ultimately into the San 
Jacinto River, completely routing the Mexican forces. Rapidly cut, 
beautifully photographed with a maximum use of the mobile camera, the 
sequence was as exciting as anything a major company could have pro- 
duced, and a credit, therefore, to a small company like Republic. Canutt 
himself took several of the more spectacular horse falls, and the unit as 
a whole worked out some startlingly realistic wagon crashes and whole- 
sale horse falls in the midst of exploding shells. 

Cliff Lyons 

In more recent years, Cliff Lyons, a former bit player and stuntman who 
had doubled for William Boyd and Ken Maynard, has donned the 
mantle put aside by Eason as the maestro of horse-action second unit 
work. Both John Wayne and John Ford utilize his services regularly. 

In earlier years, manipulation of horse falls revolved principally 
around a device known as "The Running W" — ropes arranged strate- 
gically, and hidden from the camera, over which the horse tripped. The 
stuntman, knowing when to expect his fall, was prepared; the horse was 


not. The almost incredible number of horse falls in The Charge of the Light 
Brigade (brilliant editing undoubtedly made many of these falls seem far 
more brutal than they actually were) provoked the American Society for 
the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals into action, and the method was 
outlawed. Stuntmen then developed systems to signal the horse, so that 
it would fall on command with less risk of injury. 

Lyons is today the foremost of the horse-fall specialists, and if there is 
any flaw in his work it is perhaps that it is just a little too perfect, sug- 
gesting its preparation. The Comancheros, a John Wayne Western made 
in 1961, in particular had too many scenes in which groups of stuntmen, 
rjQ^w all obviously acting on the same command, had their horses fall at the 

same split-second. Lyons' speciality has always remained the horse fall 
en masse, and he has never quite equaled Eason's work in other areas. 

Other second unit directors 

Other second unit directors of note include Andrew Marton, who staged 
the battle scenes in The Red Badge of Courage and who occasionally takes 
over as sole director. When John Huston left the Selznick production of 
A Farewell to Arms (1957), it was Marton who directed until a new pres- 
tige director could be assigned. Such was also the case with Willard Van 
Dyke, who took over White Shadows in the South Seas (1928) when Robert 
Flaherty left the film. 

John D. Waters, who directed most of the Tim McCoy Westerns at 
MGM that were not directed by Van Dyke, also turned to second unit 
direction, among his credits being sequences from Viva Villa! and the 

Indian attack from Ambush. Richard Talmadge, probably the best all- 
around stuntman of them all, and an amazing athlete (he doubled for 
Douglas Fairbanks in some of the most tricky acrobatic stunts from The 
Mark of %prro, The Mollycoddle and Robin Hood) had his own starring 
series of action pictures in both the silent and sound eras; he, too, became 
a fine second unit director, principally at Paramount in the Thirties. 
More recently he staged the bruising, semi-comic fist fights in North to 

Chester Franklin, who died in 1956, was a specialist in animal scenes, 
and worked on a number of Westerns and semi-Westerns. It was Franklin 
who directed one of the best of the silent Rin Tin Tin films, Where the 
North Begins, the lovely film Sequoia, and the more sugar-coated The 
Yearling. (Only on the first of these films did he receive sole director 
credit.) Sam Nelson was one of the busiest second unit directors at 
Columbia, but his work lacked distinction in larger films, and he was 
best suited to the scores of routine "B" Westerns that were assigned to 
him. Another man '-ho had always been associated with fairly routine 
"B" Westerns, Edward Killy, showed that when functioning as a second 
unit director with a large enough budget, he could produce brilliant 
action material. The battles and particularly the final charge in Gunga 
Din were his work. 



Takima Canutt 

Unique among stuntmen and second unit directors is Yakima Canutt, 
who led both fields for many years, and who staged the big action scenes 
for Ben Hur (1960) and El Cid (1961). A former second-string Western 
star, Yakima switched to playing villains in the sound era, and at 

Falls from horses work better atop a slight incline. 
Yakima Canutt (a photo taken in the early Thirties). 

Monogram and Mascot quickly established himself as the top stuntman. 
Being an actor of sorts was a distinct advantage in that he could play 
prominent supporting roles in addition to handling the falls and fights. 
One of his most astounding stunts took place in the Mascot serial The 
Devil Horse (1932), directed by stunt expert Otto Brower. Doubling for 
Harry Carey, Canutt literally fought the horse of the title, hanging by 
his feet from the horse's neck while it reared, plunged, rolled in the dust 
and wheeled around at top speed in an effort to throw him. Mascot 
serials were crudely put together, but they moved and serials like The 
Devil Horse, The Three Musketeers, and The Hurricane Express provided all 
the opportunities Canutt and his colleagues could want. Canutt was 
soon the leading stuntman at Mascot (later to become Republic), Mon- 
ogram, and at independent studios as well. At Monogram, Canutt was 
not only the perennial villain in series with John Wayne, Rex Bell, and 
others, but he was also Wayne's permanent double. In this latter ca- 
pacity he was often very carelessly photographed: e.g., the director 
would offer a medium close-up of Canutt leaping into the saddle, and 
only seconds later did the audience realize that it was supposed to have 
been Wayne. The last reel often found Canutt, doubling for Wayne, 
chasing himself! 

One extremely hazardous stunt was a Canutt specialty. It usually 

found its way into the last reel as the villain attempted to make his 
escape on a stagecoach. The hero raced after the coach on horseback, 
and as he drew abreast, he would raise his arms to grasp the back of the 
coach preparatory to the transfer. At this point, of course, there was 
always a neat cut to a reverse or long shot, enabling the stunt man to 
take over from the star. Canutt, clutching the rocking coach, hauled 
himself from the saddle, clung from the back of the coach, drew himself 
over the top, advanced to the driver's seat, and engaged the villain in 
some furious fighting. In films where Canutt was also the villain, matters 
became a trifle confused since Canutt was doubling for the hero, obliging 
someone else to double for him! The only person uninvolved was the 
hero, who was seen only in close-up inserts shot separately. After fighting 
on top of the careening coach, the two men would break apart and 
Canutt would fall between the horses. He would hang for a few seconds 
from the wooden shaft just above the flying hooves, and finally let go. 
(An alternative action had the struggling men fall on the horses them- 
selves, the fight continuing for a few moments on the shaft between them.) 
Then, as the coach passed over him, Canutt would grasp the rear axle, 
permitting himself to be dragged along. Slowly he would turn over on 
his stomach, climb to the top of the coach once more, this time to sub- 
due the villain for keeps. 

Canutt performed this stunt, with variations, for Jack Randall in 
Riders of the Dawn, for Roy Rogers in Young Bill Hickok and Sunset in 
Eldorado, and for countless other players. At Republic, in addition to 
acting and directing several features and serials, he organized a group 
of stuntmen with well-trained horses and specially rigged equipment, 
which he directed (or controlled under another's direction) in large- 
scale Westerns, as well as in such "disguised" horse operas as Storm Over 
Bengal (1938). 

Apart from the Battle of San Jacinto, mentioned earlier, he staged 
the escape from the prairie fire in Dakota, and the dash of the oil-laden 
wagons through a blazing canyon in In Old Oklahoma (1943). In another 
excellent historical epic, Dark Command (1940), he drove a team of horses 
and a buggy off a high cliff. His expert hand (and he himself) were to 
be seen in the chase over the salt flats in Stagecoach (1939). Canutt, no 
longer young, has given up personal stunting, but he still directs an 
occasional "B" Western, The Lawless Rider (1954), for example. He was 
responsible for the expert second unit work on such films as Ivanhoe 
(1952), with its first-rate jousting scenes, and Helen of Troy (1956), 
notable for some brilliant and truly lavish battles. His son carries on 
the family tradition as a stuntman; it was he who doubled for Charlton 
Heston in the chariot race crackup in Ben Hur (1959). 



David Sharpe. 



David Sharpe 

Not far behind Canutt in ability is David Sharpe, a former child star, 
also a competent actor, who took many featured roles as well as 
occasional leads in Westerns. Now in his late forties, he retains a slim 
figure and youthful appearance. Sharpe is a fine rider and an all-around 
stuntman, but acrobatics are his specialties: leaps, falls from horses, wild 
fisticuffs. He worked on some of Fairbanks' last pictures and seems to 
have had much of the great star's grace. (Douglas, Jr., utilized his services 
as both a double and stunt organizer, too.) If anything, Sharpe's stunting 
is too mechanically slick, and occasionally it dispels conviction. 

In The Perils ofNyoka (1942), one of the fastest-paced serials ever made, 
Sharpe doubled for literally everyone in the cast, the heroine included! 
In the Fifties, he switched to Universal, bringing his athletic prowess to 
bear as a double for Tony Curtis, Alan Ladd, and others. Some of his 
best stunting for this studio was in the intelligent and above-average 
Western The Man from the Alamo (1953), in which he doubled strenuously 
for Glenn Ford. He was also the standard double for Guy Madison in 
his "Wild Bill Hickok" television series, in which he was often photo- 
graphed in such near close-up that the substitution was painfully 
obvious. Of late, Sharpe has been following Canutt's path: coaching 
stars and directing action sequences. 

Fred Graham 

One of the leading specialists in really rugged brawls is Fred Graham. 
His very appearance is usually a tip-off that a free-swinging fracas is 
on the way. His barber-shop encounter with Arthur Kennedy in Fritz 
Lang's Rancho Notorious (1952) was particularly bloody and singularly un- 
motivated. Graham's appearance in one non-Western is perhaps worth 
mentioning: John Ford seemed to be kidding Graham's prolific activity 
as a movie scrapper when in The Wings of Eagles (1957), Fred appeared 
on both sides of one battle — as a Navy man and as an Army opponent. 
In one of the two roles Graham sported a small mustache, but since 
Ford delighted in incorporating full close-ups of both Grahams glowering 
at the camera, he was presumably having a little fun on the side. 

Stunting and doubling may, as in the case of Jack Mahoney, Ray 
Corrigan, Kermit Maynard, and George O'Brien, be an introduction 
to stardom for some actors, but for others it can sometimes mean the 
end of the trail. Jim Bannon, who was a promising "B" Western leading 
man at Columbia in the mid-Forties, later starring in one or two minor 
series, dropped out of sight only to reappear in the early Fifties as a 

double for Bill Elliott in fight scenes at Allied Artists. 

Apart from the "straight" riding and fighting stuntmen, there must 
also be even more specialized performers. Burly Duke York did some 
good scenes fighting wolf-dog Chinook in a series of James Oliver 
Curwood adventures for Monogram. Poundage is a definite asset in 
such fights, for even the experienced stuntman needs ample padding, 
and on a slightly built man padding is a little too obvious. (Padding is 
particularly noticeable in the scenes in which men of slight stature are 
struck by Indian arrows!) 

Bud Osborne 

The apparently straightforward job of stagecoach driving is, however, 
also very much of a specialized area. The old Wells Fargo drivers had 
to be as physically fit as the Pony Express riders, and many of their 
exploits have become legend. There was the famous Hank Monk who, 
according to Wells Fargo records, "had as many press notices as a 
prima donna." It was Monk who drove Horace Greeley down the 
Sierra slopes at a furious pace, catapulted his celebrated passenger 
through the roof, and calmly told him: "Keep your seat, Horace, and 
we'll get you there on time!" Even more colorful was Charlie Pankhurst, 
a whip-wielding daredevil who once routed a gang of highwaymen 
single-handed. "Charlie" lived to be sixty-six, and only on his death 
did Wells Fargo discover that its foremost stagecoach driver was, in fact, 
a woman! In Hollywood Westerns, one player has assumed the role of 
Hank and Charlie almost exclusively — Bud Osborne. Osborne, a former 
stunt rider with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, has been in movies since 
1915, primarily as a villain. His principal distinction has been his 
ability to handle any kind of wagon or coach, equipped with any num- 
ber of horses, and to drive it at top speed over the roughest kind of 

Stunt movies 

Despite the obvious excitement and drama inherent in movie stunting, 
there have been few movies about it, and almost no good ones. Two 
RKO films of the early Thirties, The Lost Squadron and Lucky Devils, 
came near to success, but neither dealt with Western stunting. The bulk 
of the others were primarily cheap action pictures which implied that 
stunting was mainly a matter of brawn and luck. Sons of Adventure made 
by Republic was inauthentic and unconvincing, despite plenty of 



"Bulldogging," a technique for capturing 
cattle adapted to the capturing of badmen. 

action and direction by Yakima Canutt himself. Hollywood Thnllmakers 
was merely a cheaply fashioned parade of old Richard Talmadge 
stunts, allegedly being performed by William Henry. The basic situation 
of Fox's Shooting High (1940) was genuinely, if unintentionally, amusing. 
Gene Autry played a cowboy who was hired to double for the star 
(Robert Lowery) of a Western that was being shot in the cowboy's 
neighborhood. We see the camera stop grinding on Lowery as Autry, 
in close-up, walks into the scene and replaces Lowery in order to stunt 
for him. Then, in almost telescopic long shot, a double performs the 
stunt for Autry. When the excitement is over, the camera returns to a 
close-up of Autry grinning amiably and dusting himself off! In an 
earlier Western, The Big Show, Autry played a dual role as both a 
Western star and a stuntman double. Needless to say, both Autrys 
made liberal use of Yakima Canutt in a wild sequence which took place 
practically beneath the hooves of a galloping wagon team. 

Films like this generate the impression, one largely true, that few 
Western stars are capable of performing stunts themselves. Obviously 
most are not, and even those that are, usually, for obvious reasons, sub- 
mit to doubling. But in all fairness it should be recorded that some 
stars — Tom Mix and George O'Brien, in particular — only infrequently 

resorted to doubles, while others — Johnny Mack Brown, Gilbert Roland, 
Jack Randall, Tom Tyler, and Ken Maynard — on various occasions 
proved their capabilities with stunts filmed in close-up. 

While there is naturally a limit to the number of stunts that can be 
devised around horses, cliffs, or fight scenes, there seems to be no limit 
to the number of ways a given stunt can be performed. And quite often 
a stunt that "misfires" will prove more exciting than a perfectly executed 
one. A case in point occurred in the 1934 John Wayne Monogram 
Western, The Trail Beyond. The stuntman (probably Canutt) doubling 
for Wayne draws abreast of the open wagon in which the villain is 
making his escape. He is to leap onto the wagon from his horse, engage 
the villain in a fight, and topple with him down a steep incline. But the 
timing was off. He leaps — and misses — just grabbing the bars on the 
outside of the wagon instead of landing securely. For a moment he 
clings there, being dragged along almost under the front wheels. Obvi- 
ously he realizes that there is no way to salvage the stunt, so he lets go, 
rolls in the dust, gets to his feet, leaps on his horse, resumes the chase, 
and does the stunt again — correctly. The photographer had the presence 
of mind to keep the camera going the whole time, and the exciting 
sequence was used in toto. Such "failures" can be seen only in the cheaper 



Stuntman Fred Graham {right) 
in a fight scene with Johnny 
Mack Brown from Lone Star 
Trail (J 943). 

Jumping horses from a fast-moving 
train, a difficult stunt from When the 
Daltons Rode (1940). 

Westerns, where tight shooting schedules often prevent such a scene from 
being shot over again. 

Bulldogging scenes, in which the hero leaps from his galloping horse 
onto the fleeing villain, dragging him down from his horse, frequently 
go wrong, too. Usually the actual fall takes place atop a slight incline so 
that the stuntmen's bodies hit not flat ground, but a slope, enabling them 
to roll to safety. But the slightest change in the speed of one of the horses 
can throw the timing off. Sometimes (as happened in Outlaws ofSonora) 
the stuntman misses entirely; more often the fall is not "right" and it is 
quite apparent from the way the men fell that the one underneath has 
been knocked unconscious. Sloppy editing such as that in Smoking Guns, 
(1934), will sometimes leave the "hero" lying prone from his fall for a 
few frames, before the next frame is projected of the suitably dusty hero 
leaping to his feet to continue the fight. Timing is the essence of all such 
stunt work, particularly those stunts involving wagon crashes in which 
the stuntman has but seconds to jump clear before the wagon lands on 
top of him. In many cases, the shooting of such stunts is almost as tricky 
as their execution. A camera car racing along in front of a runaway 
wagon, with the hero perched on the shaft, having just released the 
horses, is obviously in some jeopardy from the driverless vehicle. The 
intricate riding stunts in Ken Maynard's silent The Red Raiders included 

UNIT DIKI < 1( )K 

several shots taken at ground level between galloping horses. Camera 
crews shooting such sequences are often, by union requirement, given 
stuntmen's pay themselves. 

Through the years, stuntmen or the stars themselves have handled 
every conceivable kind of action. In Truthful Tullwer (1916) William Hart 
rode Fritz through a plate glass window. In 1942 Buck Jones and Silver 
did the same stunt the easy way; he rode his horse through an empty 
frame, but a quick cut to a reverse angle, the throwing into the scene 
of some broken glass, and the liberal use of sound effects created a con- 
vincing illusion. Large-scale Westerns like Dodge City and The Spoilers 

have provided field days for stuntmen specializing in fisticuffs, with all- 299 

out fights in which saloons have been realistically wrecked — some credit 

due, of course, to the breakaway furniture used and stairways that stuntman and second 

collapse when half-a-dozen toughs get on them. Staging fights between 
horses is an art in itself, and one never fully mastered, since the ropes 
holding each horse back have always been at least partially visible. And 
one of the trickiest of all horse stunts has never been repeated: in When 
the Daltons Rode (1940), stuntmen rode their horses off a moving train 
and then down a steep incline parallel to the tracks. 

Unfortunately, the importance of the stuntman, except as part of mass 
spectacle action, has declined in recent years. The increased use of back 
projection has made it all too easy to fake stunts, even though it is im- 
possible to duplicate the excitement of the real thing. Then, too, the 
elimination of "B" pictures generally, and of Western and other serials 
in particular, has meant that the field has automatically become smaller. 
The lively days of the Thirties when Yakima Canutt and hordes of 
stuntmen recklessly risked life and limb at Mascot are gone forever, 
replaced by action created in the studio in front of a process screen, and 
rendered even less realistic in panoramic Cinemascope. Sic transit gloria 
mundi; so fades the tradition of the exploits of a breed of gallant and 
brave men. 

Exeunt the "B"s, enter 

Rory Calhoun 

The stars wane 


"Television is a vast wasteland . 


The early Fifties saw the beginning of the 
end of the "B" Western. In 1940 almost 
thirty Western stars were active, but 1950 
could offer only a handful: Roy Rogers, 
Allan Lane, Montie Hale, Rex Allen, 
Johnny Mack Brown, Whip Wilson, Gene 
Autry, Charles Starrett, and Tim Holt. 
Before the final death knell sounded, two 
more series were begun by Monogram- 
Allied Artists, one with Bill Elliott, the other 
with Wayne Morris. A dozen Elliott pictures 
were made, only half that many with Morris, 
before it was conceded that even such well- 
written and above-average "B" Westerns 
were still uneconomical propositions. 

Between 1950 and 1954 all "B" Western 
series were eliminated; Montie Hall was the 
first casualty, Rex Allen and Wayne Morris 
were the last. With the sole exception of 
Randolph Scott, who maintained an av- 
erage of two minor "A" productions a year 
for Columbia and Warner Brothers, the 
industry was entirely without Western stars, 
a condition that had not existed since Bron- 
cho Billy Anderson had made the genre so 
popular at Essanay in 1908! 

There were several contributing factors 
to the sudden demise of the small-scale horse 
opera. One, of course, was the fact that the 
top Western stars were no longer young. 
Even Johnny Mack Brown, a relative new- 
comer compared to veterans like Ken May- 
nard and Hoot Gibson, was in his fifties — 
one of the few new stars that had been devel- 
oped since 1940 who approached the stature 




of the old-timers. Some, like Jimmy Wakely, Eddie Dean, and John 
Kimbrough, just failed to make the grade and faded from view even 
before the decline set in. Kimbrough, a former football player, lasted 
for only two films! Dean had been given all the advantages of fairly 
elaborate productions by PRC and his initial films achieved above 
average success through their use of the newly developed Cinecolor. 
However, these did little to sell Dean personally and soon reverted to 
black and white. As the New York Daily News reported in reviewing 
his Hawk of Powder River: "Eddie Dean's latest is in black and white 
rather than color but the improvement is hardly noticeable; you can 
still see him." 

The rise in production costs 

In 1950, television was inundated with "B" Westerns made from 1930 
on, initially just the cheaper independent material, but before long all 
the polished little Westerns from the major companies, too. Here were a 
great number of films that in terms of production value and excitement 
were unquestionably superior to the Westerns that Columbia, Republic, 
and Monogram were still making. As new television markets opened, 
and as further blocks of old films were leased to them, the theatrical 
market for new Westerns diminished. There was little incentive now for 
the studios to improve their small-budget Westerns; they continued to 
be made for their limited markets, located in the South and in northern 
cities with big Negro populations, but they were markets that were 
steadily shrinking and the films even there did little more than break 
even. The big profits from "cheap" Westerns were a thing of the past, 
and in fact "cheap" Westerns themselves were an illusion. A Western 
that would have cost fifteen or twenty thousand dollars in the mid- 
Thirties was now costing sixty thousand, and even this budget was held 
to only by careful cutting of corners. For example, the expensive run- 
ning inserts, shot from camera cars, were replaced by the simpler, 
cheaper, and less dramatic pan shots. Mobile camera work was reduced 
to a minimum, resulting in long static dialogue takes devoid of move- 
ment or intercutting. Casts and even livestock were reduced to skeleton 
forces, and a maximum use was made of stock footage. Increasingly, 
Republic and especially Columbia began to build their Westerns around 
available footage, and the latter studio used it so extensively that they 
were turning out their "new" Westerns on three-day shooting schedules! 
The plot of Laramie, for example, was arranged so that it could use all 
the big scenes from John Ford's Stagecoach, complete to the chase across 

the salt flats and the cavalry racing to the rescue. Occasional close-up 
inserts of Charles Starrett, dressed to match the long and medium shots 
of John Wayne, furthered the deception. 

Only RKO's Tim Holt series made any attempt to maintain worth- 

Economy measures: the dramatic 
and exciting running inserts {below) 
shot from camera trucks, often in 
picturesque locations, were sup- 
planted in the Fifties by static 
scenes (right) shot from fixed 
ground camera positions, in drab 
locations only a few miles from 


while standards of production value. The films remained full of action, 
well written, well cast, and intelligently directed. But these virtues, 
including frequent changes in camera set-up to avoid the long takes that 
were making the other "B" Westerns pedestrian, took their toll. The Tim 
Holt films cost as much as ninety thousand dollars apiece without mak- 
ing a dollar more than competitive Westerns which cost two-thirds or 
even less of that amount to produce. 

Thus, despite every possible economy, including the bolstering of 
current series with reissues, and cutting new output from the standard 
eight pictures per year to six, and even four, the "B" Western was 
<yr\A doomed. Every "gimmick" was tried — even the use of half-a-dozen 

Western stars in one film — in vain. The last regular "B" series Western 
the western to be released, in September 1954, was Monogram's Two Guns and a 

Badge, a Wayne Morris vehicle in the old austere vein, with a simple plot 
and no songs or other modern accouterments, and even a title in the 
old manner. It was no spectacular swan song for the "B," but it was an 
appropriate and respectable close. In addition to being the last of its 
class, it was also, sadly, the last film of its director, Lewis D. Collins, one of 
the most prolific directors of expert minor Westerns. He died shortly after 
its completion. 

Doubtless individual "B" Westerns will always be made by very small 
operators on a strictly independent and non-series basis, but the num- 
ber of these is so small, and their quality so poor, that they constitute 
no likelihood of a revival or even a limited continuation of the "B" 
Western as a class in itself. One or two producers reasoned that with 
all the major companies withdrawing from the field, the market was 
wide open for cheaply made Westerns. The films that emerged from 
this mentality were so inferior that most of them, even with low budgets, 
failed to recoup their costs. One producer of a James Ellison-Russell 
Hayden series hit on a unique method of keeping his budgets down to 
twenty thousand dollars per picture. Apart from using a maximum of 
stock footage, often ancient and poorly inserted, he also put identical 
casts into each film, shot every chase and fight from several angles, 
worked on a minimum of two pictures at a time, and came up with a group 
of six Westerns so identical that it was impossible to tell one from the 
other! To compound the confusion, he later sold the group to television 
under completely different titles! Another producer, theater-owner Joy 
Houck, made an appalling series of Westerns starring Al "Lash" LaRue, 
built around liberal helpings of sequences from his older starring films, 
and featuring only a minimum of new and cheaply filmed studio scenes. 

One of the more enterprising of these independent Western producers 

was John Carpenter, who operated in the capacity of actor, writer, 
director, and producer. Neither Hart nor Mix had tried to bite off quite 
as much as this! A good enough actor, and certainly a highly competent 
rider and stuntman, Carpenter was not particularly attractive in appear- 
ance, rather too old to catch on with youngsters as a Western hero, and 
too familiar as a bit player to launch himself as a new personality. In- 
stead, he cashed in on a slight resemblance to Montgomery Clift by dress- 



A John Carpenter film, 
Son of the Renegade 
(1953). Example of an 
overdone attempt at the 
classic Western. 

ing himself as Clift had done in Red River! In his plots Carpenter 
certainly tried for the unusual, and for what he felt was a realistic 
reconstruction of the early West, but he crammed so much into his plots 
that they moved too quickly and illogically, and it was just impossible 
to take them seriously. The fights were fantastically overdone displays 
of stunting ability, the gun battles, all gloriously and heroically posed, 
too obviously emulated — in a critic's opinion — the paintings of Reming- 


ton, Flagg, and others. To all this, he added a fondness for casting 
himself in a dual role, and for duplicating snatches of action patently 
lifted from great Westerns. Carpenter (who also used the name of 
John Forbes at times) certainly had his limitations as a writer-director, 
but it was his further shortcomings as a business man and promoter that 
really doomed his films. Nothing if not enterprising, but a babe in the 
woods in Hollywood financial circles, Carpenter sometimes found that 
in his efforts to raise backing he had sold away rather more than one 
hundred percent of the picture! When money ran out, he would try to 
finish a film cheaply, using non-union camera crews and shooting in 
sixteen millimeter, having the results blown up to thirty-five millimeter. 
More than once, because of unpaid lab bills, the negatives to his films 
the western were attached, and it was often a year or two before they were freed for 

ultimate release. In an effort to keep costs low, or in return for finan- 
cial support, he used friends and associates in his films as both actors and 
technicians. Leading ladies like "Texas Rose" Bascom and supporting 
players like "Big Red" Carpenter, John's brother, added nothing but 
amateur ineptitude to his films. Only one, The Lawless Rider, emerged 
with a professional stamp on it, as a result of Alex Gordon's production 
and Yakima Canutt's direction. The majority of his films, of which 
Badman's Gold and Outlaw Treasure are typical, emerged mainly as hodge- 
podge affairs. Carpenter's work does not warrant perhaps the space we 
have given him, but his activities illustrate particularly well the less- 
publicized, the independent, side of film-making on poverty row. 

Borderline Westerns 

Replacing the quickly and cheaply made Westerns, was a newcomer: 
a new type of "B" Western which made its appearance in the early 
Fifties. It did not, of course, consider itself "B" in any way. Films in this 
group were eighty-minute Technicolor Westerns with stars of some 
stature — Randolph Scott, Audie Murphy, Tony Curtis, Rory Calhoun, 
Sterling Hayden, Stephen McNally, and others. They were produced 
by Warners, Republic, Columbia, Paramount, Allied Artists, and 
especially Universal in quantities almost equaling the cheap Westerns 
produced by them in earlier years. Shotgun, Drums Across the River, Santa 
Fe, and Wichita were among the best of this generally high-standard 
group. Decidedly a product of the Fifties, they were, in scope and 
budget, several notches below the standards of such previous, less mass- 
produced "A" Westerns as Dodge City and Stagecoach, yet they could 
boast of considerable production values and often better-than-average 


scripts. Above all, they presented plenty of slick, fast-paced action, the 
kind one usually associated with the humble "B" Western. Initially 
they caught on well with the public as top features. 

Universal, having abandoned its "B" series, still needed Westerns 
and so embarked on these more expensive programmers at a time when 
other companies like Monogram and Republic were still struggling to 
sustain their five-reel black-and-white oaters. The competition of these 
Technicolor Westerns was one more factor which hastened the end of 
the few remaining small Westerns. Obviously, if the average exhibitor 
could pay a few dollars more to obtain a color film with Randolph 

Scott, a film long enough to obviate the need for a co-feature, he had 307 

little call to buy the five-reeler with Charles Starrett or Rex Allen. 

However, within a very few years these "new look" Westerns were 
quickly relegated to the supporting feature category. Of course, they were 
still strong attractions in the rural areas, commanded respectable rental 
rates, and were good overseas sellers (more so than the regular "B"s, 
which were too short for the predominantly single-bill European market), 
but since the costs of color and name casts meant not inexpensive 
budgets, they were basically not much more profitable than the "B"s 
they were replacing. Most did show a profit of sorts and since exhib- 
itors and public alike found them preferable to the old black-and-white 
Westerns available on television, they have become, it would seem, 
permanent fixtures, although after 1960 their number declined somewhat. 

The production value of these Westerns must have discouraged 
small producers and independents who were still trying to make prof- 
itable minor Westerns. An attempt was made by these producers to 
overcome their competition by loading their own pictures with "gim- 
micks," most specifically, controversial new "versions" of Western 
history, and the wholesale exploitation of violence and sex, always a 
safe proposition commercially. A number of crude and tasteless produc- 
tions, of which The Daltons' Women and Jesse James' Women were the most 
vulgar, were rushed to the market; their principal attractions were bla- 
tant sexual suggestiveness and all-out saloon brawls between rather bare- 
bosomed dancing girls. Fortunately, the very cheapness of these films 
prevented their ever achieving wide popularity, and they remained 
merely novelty attractions. (The ultimate was reached in 1961 with 
some films that were out-and-out exploitations of nudity, of which The 
Bare West is a fairly representative sample.) Fight scenes now were 
devised to be as brutal as possible; in Rancho Notorious, for example, a 
sixteen millimeter camera nosed its way in and out of the fight scenes 
in order to capture candidly all the bloody highlights. 


Not only the morals turned topsy-turvy in these films, but, more 
distressing, history was often completely distorted, a good example 
being provided by Jack McCall, Desperado. Initially the film depicted 
Wild Bill Hickok as a completely unscrupulous renegade, guilty of 
trafficking with the Indians, in addition to being a cold-blooded killer. 
Certainly, in previous films, Hickok, who had been played by Gary 
Cooper, William S. Hart, Roy Rogers, Bill Elliott, and Richard Dix 
among many others, had been whitewashed and idealized; there is no 
doubt that there were unsavory sides to his character, and a good deal 
of his reputation is more legend than facts but basically he was on the 
qqo right side of the law. A further distortion occurred in the casting of honest- 

appearing, virile George Montgomery as Jack McCall, the man who 
callously shot Hickok in the back in order to win fame and glory. The 
film showed McCall beating Hickok to the draw in a fair fight, with 
audience sympathy all on McCall's side, his parents having been mur- 
dered by Hickok. Historical fact was followed to the extent of having 
McCall arrested, condemned to death, and subsequently pardoned; 
this and McCall's marriage made a conveniently happy ending. How- 
ever, equally conveniently, the producer forgot to note that immediately 
after McCall's pardon he was re-arrested by Federal troops, retried, and 
promptly hanged! 

Television's grind; re-enter Gene Autry 

The gradual abandonment of "B" Westerns for theatrical release and 
their adoption by television duplicated, in a general way, the situation 
that had existed in Hollywood with the arrival of sound. The field of 
Westerns to be made specifically for television was wide open; new for- 
mats and stars could be created, and already established stars whose 
thrones had been threatened by the diminishing value of the Western 
were given a new lease on life. 

The first important star to enter the new medium in the late Forties 
was Gene Autry. Although he was still producing his own theatrical 
Westerns for Columbia, and encountering hostile reactions from exhib- 
itors who complained that patrons would not pay to see Autry in theaters 
when they could see him for nothing at home, he twisted the argument's 
tail by declaring that his television films would, in fact, stimulate extra 
business for his theatrical ones. At this point, television was relatively 
new, its effects unknown, and the motion picture industry felt that it 
constituted a grave threat. Participation in it by top stars was rare, and 
producers, distributors, and exhibitors alike were up in arms in their 

determination to withhold cooperation from the new medium. This de- 
termination relaxed a good deal in subsequent years when it became 
apparent to these same people that there was money to be made from 

In all probability, Autry did not really believe his own assertion that 
his television films would assist his theatrical ones; it has held true in 
only one case, that of producer Walt Disney. A shrewd businessman, 
Autry probably realized long before his competitors did that television 
was to be the new outlet for the cheap Western, and the only consistent 
one. Under the banner of his Flying A Productions he developed several 

series in addition to the one starring himself: the "Range Rider" group qqq 

with Jack Mahoney, "The Adventures of Champion," a horse series, 

"Buffalo Bill, Jr." starring Dick Jones, and "Annie Oakley" with Gail ENTER television 


Television's needs 

Requirements for television Westerns are far more rigid than they ever 
were for theatrical releases. For one thing, they have to pass the inspec- 
tion of sponsors and advertising agencies long before they are broadcast. 
Each story has to be told in a running time of twenty-six minutes, 
providing a half-hour show with time out for commercials. In addition, 
it must be constructed so that the dramatic or action highlight imme- 
diately preceding the break for the commercial will be strong enough to 
hold viewers' attention. Television programming is such that groups of 
thirteen, twenty-six or thirty-nine shows are required for a series, 
meaning that the television Western is much more of a mass produced 
commodity than were small Westerns for theatrical release, which never 
ran to more than eight a year in any one series. 

In order to facilitate quick and economical production, it was 
necessary to build up a sort of stock company of technicians and actors, 
much as Griffith and Ince had done in their own short pre- 1914 Westerns. 
Autry assembled a particularly efficient unit consisting of directors like 
William Witney and John English, players like comedian Pat Buttram, 
leading lady Gail Davis, character actors Denver Pyle, Lyle Talbot, and 
Don Harvey, and sundry hillbilly musical groups. Their talents were 
pooled and applied with the same energy that marked all of Autry's 

Mass production for predetermined markets inevitably means that 
quantity is more important than quality. Television Westerns were 
certainly no better than the down-graded theatrical Westerns they were 



supplanting, but since their stories 
were told in only three reels, they 
were faster and slicker. In story con- 
tent, however, they were usually 
much inferior. Designed specifically 
for juvenile audiences, but needing 
adult approval (since it would be the 
adults who would buy the products 
advertised by the show's sponsor), 
the films succeeded in providing 
action and simple comedy, avoiding 
elements such as sex, strong drama, 
or brutality, which might alienate 
viewers supervising their children's 
entertainment. Playing it completely 
safe, Autry and others tended to 
make fast but completely anemic 
films: what might have been a mere 
plot element in one of Autry 's prior 
Westerns would now be strung out 
into the complete plot line. 

The small television screen re- 
quired a maximum of close-up work, 
and a minimum of fast intercutting. 
Producing the films on, or under, 
budget (thirty thousand dollars 
being an average figure for a good 
quality half-hour Western) also pro- 
duced a tendency to long static 
takes and lengthy dialogue ex- 
changes. These protracted scenes, 
plus the stress on close-ups, gave 
these new "pocket" Westerns a rather 
"stagey" appearance at times. And 
the necessity for close-up work had 
its distinct disadvantages: Autry and 
some of his colleagues were begin- 
ning to age rather visibly, and this 
did not escape the scrupulous eye of 
the camera; the use of doubles in 
action scenes also became that much 

Dennis Weaver 

James Arness 

more obvious. More obvious, too, 
than in theatrical films were the 
studio sets. A blank white backdrop 
with a couple of false trees planted in 
front of it just could not pass muster 
as an "exterior." Cheaply made 
series, such as "The Lone Ranger," 
staged almost all their action, interior 
and exterior, within these cramped 
and obvious sets. A few chases, for 
use throughout the entire series, 
would be shot in genuine exteriors 
and intercut with all the patently 
artificial studio footage. The more 
expensive and carefully planned 
television Westerns had to contend 
with the necessity for haste no less 
than cheaply made films; shows had 
to be completed on schedule, to meet 
an air-time deadline. Sets could be 
serviceable at best, and rarely com- 
pared with the at least workmanlike 
sets of the cheaper theatrical 

The television Western was in fact 
a factory-made product, and with 
so many limitations placed upon 
them, it is surprising that many films 
emerged as well as they did. One 
reason that they did is perhaps that 
they were not made by television 
personnel, but by the same veterans 
who had been making theatrical 
Westerns for years. For example, 
director on some of television's 
"Cisco Kid" adventures was Lam- 
bert Hillyer, maker of some of the 
best Hart and Mix Westerns. 

From a standpoint of action con- 
tent and modest but efficient pro- 
duction values, some of these tele- 
vision horse operas, especially those 


INI I K II I 1 \ IMC >N 

of Autry, came out quite creditably. Autry incidentally reduced the mu- 
sical content of his films considerably, and concentrated more on action 
than at any time previous. 

Hopalong Cassidy 

In the wake of Autry's success, the trend was to exploit both Western 
stars and actual historical figures. In the former category, Autry's 
number one rival — they had, of course, been rivals in the days of 
theatrical competition, too — was William Boyd. Boyd was on the verge 
o<2 of bankruptcy when television arrived literally in the nick of time to 

restore his popularity. In setting himself up as a producer, he had 
the western secured the apparently worthless rights to his old Hopalong Cassidy 

films. He not only earned a fortune leasing these features to television 
at the time when they were the only Westerns of major studio origin to 
be seen on the home screen but, more important, he reawakened 
national interest in the Hopalong Cassidy character. This accomplished, 
he was able to start a completely new series of Cassidy Westerns 
specifically for television's use. Boyd's tenure as a cowboy on television 
was brief, but for a while he remained its brightest star, reaping the 
usual subsidiary benefits. These far exceeded the mere grosses from film 
rental; also very much involved were the considerable profits which 
accrued from Hopalong Cassidy comic books, toy guns, Western out- 
fits, and sundry other products, plus revenue from guest appearances at 
rodeos, circuses, in street parades sponsored by large stores, and even in 
De Mille's film The Greatest Show on Earth. Following in the wake of this 
success, all of Clarence E. Mulford's Hopalong Cassidy novels were 
reprinted and completely rewritten to tie in with the uncommon 
conception of Cassidy as an idealistic and gentlemanly Western hero. 
Mulford's excellent authoritative picture of the West was therefore 
completely distorted, to be presented anew on the level of a "B" 

Other stars 

Roy Rogers, who quit theatrical film production a little later than 
Autry, was also to be seen in a television series; although popular, it 
failed to repeat the success of the Autry pictures, perhaps because of a 
rather more brutal approach to action content. Moreover, Rogers and 
his leading lady and wife, Dale Evans, are both deeply religious, and 
their occasional philosophizing did not sit too well with youngsters who 


were far more interested in gun play than gospel-thumping. 

Another Autry rival was a star under contract to him, appearing in 
a series produced by Autry: Jack Mahoney and his "Range Rider" 
series. Mahoney was a former stuntman, and this lively series was 
successfully designed to exploit his outstanding athletic and acrobatic 
ability. Exploiting characters rather than stars were the series dealing 
with the Lone Ranger (Clayton Moore), Wild Bill Hickok (Guy Mad- 
ison), and Kit Carson (Bill Williams). Of course, all these films pro- 
duced revenue above and beyond television rentals by lending their 
titles and the names of their stars to accessory products. Theatrical 
release in Europe added to the profits. 313 

Just as the theatrical "B" had fallen from grace, so in a much shorter 
time did the television Westerns. The principal contributing factor was 
the sale to television of old Westerns starring Gene Autry and Roy 
Rogers, and other Westerns not previously seen on television. They all 
were naturally of a much higher standard than the television Westerns 
then being made by the same stars. 

As always in such situations, the need for a new "gimmick" was 
evident, and in 1952 it took two forms: the popularizing of national 
heroes who were not necessarily Western heroes; second, the skillful 
application to Western themes of what may be termed a composite of 
High Noon and "Dragnet" approaches, "Dragnet" in particular having 
been a fabulously successful detective television series, relying for its 
effect on dramatic understatement and pseudo-documentary writing. 

A series such as "Gunsmoke" is perhaps most typical of this second 
form, the films of which have come to be known as "adult" Westerns, 
a term bestowed gratuitously upon itself by television. It is true that 
such films have a more sober and realistic approach than those of 
Autry and Rogers, and undoubtedly adult audiences view them with 
more favor. However, juvenile audiences have been found to enjoy 
them as much. Their "adult" label derives more from the fact that the 
films are being shown at night when youngsters are presumed to be in 
bed. "Gunsmoke" has certainly retained the highest overall standard of 
this new brand of Westerns. Relying more on characterization and 
drama than on straightforward action, it has handled several near- 
psychological themes. Its underplayed depiction of the U. S. marshal 
as a colorless official doing an unglamorous job, derives directly from 
"Dragnet," while the recurring elements of civic responsibility in the 
maintenance of law derive from High Noon. Unfortunately such elements, 
gripping and original in individual films, inevitably become stereotyped 
when they are merely part of a formula. The marshal's human weak- 


nesses and moments of self-doubt in "Gunsmoke" ultimately tend to 
become as much cliches as the invincible heroism and fearlessness of 
heroes in Westerns that go to the opposite extreme. "Gunsmoke" was 
popular enough to survive both imitation and outright parody, and in 
1961 it switched from a half-hour format to a full hour. Its influence on 
other series has been considerable, and one of the better ones to emerge 
in the wake of "Gunsmoke" was "Wyatt Earp," dealing with the career 
of the U. S. marshal, played by Hugh O'Brian. Because of the tremen- 
dous audience exposure such shows get, their ability to build stars is 
phenomenal; James Arness, the star of "Gunsmoke," and Hugh O'Brian, 
qu the star of "Wyatt Earp," although comparatively unknown at first, soon 

became important box office properties. O'Brian recently appeared in a 
Broadway play. Such a process, in the old Hollywood days, took years. 
However, the stars produced in the older and slower manner had greater 
stature and lasted. Robert Taylor and Clark Gable, for instance, introduced 
in "B" picture supporting roles, remained top stars for over thirty years. 
Arness and O'Brian, on the contrary, featured immediately in big Holly- 
wood films, have had only mediocre success, indicating that their great- 
est popularity lies with the less discriminating younger audience, and 
not with the adult ticket-purchasing public. 

As frequently happens, a good thing is over-exploited and a decline 
began. The Earp Westerns soon strove too hard and too self-consciously 
for effect, especially disturbing being the sustained use of guitar- 
strummed theme in lieu of a standard musical score. Far from construc- 
tive in its effect on juvenile viewers was the soon-defunct "Jim Bowie" 
series, obviously imitative of Walt Disney's successful "Davy Crockett" 
film. As played by Scott Forbes, frontiersman Bowie was a vulgar barbar- 
ian given to the irresponsible wielding and throwing of a knife. Youngsters 
who had learned that it was good, harmless fun to imitate the exploits of 
Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and other cowboys, naturally found it hard 
to understand why they should not likewise imitate this latest, but 
potentially more harmful "herd." Presumably there were audience and 
sponsor protests, for Bowie after a while began to conduct himself in a 
more respectable manner, his activity with the knife cut down to a 

New off-beat series sprang up with such monotonous regularity that 
they outnumbered the staid and unpretentious films of Autry. Even the 
Westerns that made no claim to adult slants had to have these off-beat 
elements, such as Kirby Grant's "Sky King" series which dealt with an 
airborne Texas Ranger. Warner's "Cheyenne" series, built around 
liberal helpings of stock footage from old Warner epics, attracted a 
considerable following, although the hero, Clint Walker, was a poor, if 


muscular horseman, doing his riding on a tame studio horse. John 
Bromfield, a star of "B" movies, proved quite popular in his "Sheriff 
of Cochise" series, dealing with the life of a sheriff in a modern West- 
ern town. Another lesser player, Douglas Kennedy, also built himself a 
much larger following in television in a series obviously imitative of 
"Gunsmoke," called "Steve Donovan, Western Marshal." Even the 
older character actors cashed in on the television's gold, among them 
Edgar Buchanan with a series based on a somewhat whitewashed 
version of Judge Roy Bean's career. Only two new series really followed 
the old format of action first and last, and to hell with soul-searching! 

Of these, one was "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon," a rather inept series, 015 

despite good directors like Lesley Selander, and the other "Rin Tin Tin." 
Rinty caught on like wildfire, the series having been so shrewdly con- 
trived it could not miss, with a mixture of three always safe ingredients: 
the U. S. Cavalry verses the Indians, a small boy, and a dog. These 
films were all shot at Chatsworth, using John Ford's old Fort Apache 
set as a center of operations. Cheaply but slickly made, they pleased the 
youngsters with their fast action, and satisfied the adults with naive but 
at least constructive moral lessons which could be passed on to their 
offspring, such as "rewards must be earned," "honesty is the best policy," 
etc. The series was, of course, particularly gratifying to manufacturers 
of accessories, who now found a completely new line of merchandise to 
peddle, from dog food and canine equipment to cavalry uniforms for 
the kids. 

The Indians came in for a fair share of attention on television, as 
well. Lon Chaney, Jr., and John Hart co-starred in a series based on 
characters in James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. The 
adventures themselves were strictly contrived for television, far removed 
from Cooper's world. Keith Larsen, who had played Indians in a number 
of theatrical films, starred in "Brave Eagle," a straightforward action 
series. Most successful of all was Fox's "Broken Arrow" series, deriving 
from the film of the same name. The same two protagonists are involved 
(Tom Jeffors, a mail rider, played by John Lupton, and Apache chief 
Cochise, played by Michael Ansara) and the issue remained the same (the 
maintenance of peace between the whites and the Apaches). Written by 
historian-novelist Elliott Arnold, the scripts had some slight distinction, 
although the translation of Indian lore into television's terms was 
superficial at best. Unfortunately the whole program smacked too much 
of the studio. Apart from the use of a Western town — a standing 
exterior location set — too many of the so-called exterior scenes were 
obviously shot on cramped interior stages. 

Series continuity, the use of basically similar story lines involving the 

same people each week, is an important contributing factor to the 
success of series like "Gunsmoke" and "Wyatt Earp." One well-above 
average series known as "Frontier," produced by enterprising Worth- 
ington Miner, did not have this continuity, and story line and cast were 
changed each week. It became an early casualty and many felt that it 
flopped because it lacked the continuity of, as New York writer Philip 
Minoff put it, "a regularly seen hero who can be identified by a viewer 
as an impersonal guardian angel." 

Failures are, of course, not determined by merit, or on the basis of 
reviews, but by ratings. Ratings are, however, meaningless; they merely 
o]c represent a manipulation of figures that can "prove" anything. But a 

show's sponsor is interested only in a high rating since presumably it in- 
the western dicates a large audience for his sales pitch. Despite the spectacular flops 

and the moderate successes, television Westerns, which, like the theat- 
rical Westerns, have been the "bread and butter" of their industry, 
have not only maintained their leading position, but also have widened 
the gap consistently over other types of shows. We have necessarily 
mentioned only a fraction of the shows produced; every week, to be sure, 
a new project is announced, and in 1961 alone, about thirty-two Western 
series were regularly presented on television. This figure was far exceeded 
in the mid- and late Fifties, when the popularity of the electronic West- 
ern was at its dizziest height. 

Throughout the Fifties, the television Western has gone through 
cycles roughly parallel to the cycles of the theatrical Western: from the 
early starring vehicles stressing action for its own sake, through racial 
and off-beat themes, to the "adult" group. We have had such diver- 
sified series as "Sugarfoot" (a deliberately inept, non-violent cowboy), 
"Rifleman," "Rawhide," "Have Gun, Will Travel," and "Outlaws." 

One interesting offshoot of these rather laboriously off-beat series has 
been the topsy-turvy casting. Former heavies of Westerns, players like 
Tristram Coffin and Douglas Kennedy, have found themselves cast as 
"character" heroes on the theory that they look like unglamorous real 
people. Conversely, former Western heroes like Ray Corrigan and 
Johnny Mack Brown, unable to find much work in the new "adult" 
world of Westerns, have donned dirty suits, let the stubble grow on 
their chins, and have played villains. 

Western series have been expanded in recent years to include a 
number of quite ambitious hour-length shows, most prominent of which 
are the "Zane Grey Theatre," mentioned earlier, and "Wagon Train," 
a leading rival to "Gunsmoke." "Wagon Train" starred Ward Bond 
until his death, and within the framework of a prolonged wagon trek, 

presented different dramatic stories each week. It attracted such great 
directors and stars as John Ford and Bette Davis, and prompted other 
hour-length Western shows likewise to use name talent. A detailed 
coverage of all of these television Westerns would really require a book 
in itself, and since so few are of real merit or importance, we have al- 
lowed ourselves the luxury of generalization. 

In one field, however, television made little attempt to duplicate 
Hollywood: the field of the documentary. This area, implying high 
cultural and educational standards, has a frightening sound to the 
great majority of television producers. But there have been a number of 

interesting television documentaries relevant to the West. Tim McCoy 017 

made an engaging series of fifteen-minute shows in which he talked 

about Western history and lore — basically a lecture series in which his enter television 

talks were illustrated by film material culled mainly from old theatrical 
features. NBC, in the mid-Fifties, devoted a ninety-minute show to the 
history of the Western, and to the making of a current Western. In 1961, 
a moving and impressive program called The Real West debunked 
many cliches, relying exclusively on old paintings and photographs of 
Western life as it was — and is. Gary Cooper, in the last year of his life, 
was poignantly effective as the narrator. One other program devoted 
itself to the career and credo of William S. Hart. Such isolated events, 
however, can do but little to brighten the rather dismal overall picture. 
The television Western can never hope to compete with the grandeur of 
such theatrical Westerns as The Searchers (1956) and Shane (1953). And 
television has taken over the "B" Western completely, has compressed 
it into its own peculiar formula, and at the same time rendered it 
commercially useless in a theatrical sense. 

The grand thrillers of the type made by Buck Jones, Tom Mix, Ken 
Maynard, and Fred Thomson are in this way taken from us for all time, 
and the loss is one for which the grand-scale epic of Ford or Vidor, no 
matter how well done, can never really compensate. 

"I have great faith in the reaction 
of the general public to 
motion pictures, and believe it 
is possible to make films 
of high quality without 
compromising integrity for what 
is sometimes patronizingly 
referred to as 'mass appeal'. " 


The Western's international 
audience and the: 


'The march to the West is our Odyssey. 


An extremely valuable survey of the com- 
munications behavior of the average Amer- 
ican was undertaken in the fall of 1947 at the 
National Opinion Research Center of the 
University of Chicago by Dr. Paul F. 
Lazarsfeld and Miss Patricia Kendall. This 
survey, whose statistical nature precludes 
our delving deeply into the subject here, 
produced evidence based on a sampling of 
over 3,500 Americans, evidence which in- 
controvertibly gave the lie to the prevailing 
notion that the mentality of the average 
movie patron was that of a ten-year-old. 
The evidence was assembled after exhaustive 
research into the frequency of attendance at 
motion picture theaters and the preference 
for different types of films at various age and 
educational levels. Nevertheless, those who 
should have studied this report, the people 
who make films in America, persist in their 
misconceptions, persisting therefore in the 
production of films which are keyed to the 
mentalities of ten-year-olds. However, in 
some circles at least, mature thinking is on 
the increase; even Cecil B. De Mille could 
write in the Fifties: "I do not abide by the 
belief popular in certain quarters that mo- 
tion picture stories should be told to fit an 
audience level of ten or twelve years. This 
is a most erroneous concept." 

That same year the survey was made, 
1947, witnessed a serious falling off of 
attendance in motion picture theaters, due 
in large part to television's increasing com- 
petition. The pure novelty of television was 




in itself a tremendous factor in the decline of movie audiences; so was 
the desire of the average American to devote more time to relaxing 
outdoor activities, after the tense war years. Yet the Western has retained 
its great influence. In the United States the largest outlet for Westerns has 
always been the juvenile market, which of course knows no boundary 
lines and is spread evenly over the nation. Since the advent of television, 
with a surfeit of its own Westerns, and its new crop of non-Western 
heroes with a marked science-fiction flavor (Superman, Captain Video, 
etc.), juvenile interest has been split. Saturday morning children's shows 
now very rarely present Westerns, although once they monopolized pro- 
oon gramming. The average Saturday morning show today tends to knock- 

about comedy of the Abbott and Costello sort and science-fiction fare, 
the western with an occasional Western thrown in. Possibly the biggest single market 

for Westerns, now that the juvenile market has so greatly declined, is the 
Negro market. In Negro areas in metropolitan centers like New York and 
Chicago, and, of course, in the South especially, the Western is still very 
much in demand. With so few new Westerns being produced, the older 
films are repeated frequently without complaint. Apart from the seeming 
Negro preference for elementary action, it is possible that the Western ap- 
peals to the Negro because of its inherent basic theme — the triumph of 
an uncompromising and uncompromised justice — and because the 
Western legend provides ample ground for an optimistic imagination, in 
light of the progress that has been made generally in the establishment 
of law and justice in the West in the bare half-century since the days of 
the frontier. 

Big cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco readily 
accept class "A" Westerns, but no real Western audience can be observed 
for the small Western. The theatrical circuits are so large, that it is 
often not financially feasible even to try to show a small Western in a 
metropolitan center, since the cost, considering the number of prints in- 
volved, would be larger than any income the film could produce. In 
cities like New York, many of the smaller Westerns are not shown at 
all, or are merely shunted off to the few out-of-the-way theaters special- 
izing in them. Rural areas around the country remain consistently good 
markets. The ranching territories, which are, of course, rural, partic- 
ularly like Westerns; the cowboys are faithful fans who like to scoff at, 
and perhaps secretly believe, the films built around their trade as it was, 
if not as it is. 

In England, Westerns are shown under much the same conditions as 
in the United States, with the same dependence on small towns rather 
than large cities. English youth retains more loyalty to the Western 

than does American. Perhaps due to England's smaller exposure to tele- 
vision, heroes from outer space have not yet come to dominate the 
screen. Because of the Western's foreign origin, it retains a kind of ex- 
otic appeal for the English child which it no longer has for the American. 

Next to England, the European country that most welcomes Westerns 
is probably Germany, a country which has made many Westerns of its 
own. Because of the relatively few "B" Westerns shown there — it is 
single-feature territory — audiences do not make the same "A" and "B" 
distinctions we make. Other countries which have shown and continue 
to show major interest in American Westerns are France and Italy. 

Countries like Indonesia often regard the Western as potentially danger- 30 1 

ous propaganda for their own minority groups, and Westerns dealing 

with mistreatment of Indians at the hands of the whites are not welcome. THE international western 

Australians proud of their own frontier days often condemn our frontier 
sagas with the phrase, "Western cliche"; but the French may praise the 
same film, calling it part of the "Western tradition." 

In terms of criticism, we should state that since the Western is the 
most typically American of all films, it is often used as an excuse for an 
attack quite unwarranted by the quality of the film itself, an attack 
which may be actually political in nature. But for an example of the 
way American Westerns are thoroughly enjoyed — and taken far more 
seriously than they usually are in the land of their origin — we can do 
no better than to refer to a delightful article, "William Cowboy," written 
by Robert Dean Frisbie for the April, 1928, issue of Photoplay, dealing 
with the reaction of a South Sea audience to a William S. Hart West- 
ern. To the Polynesians, Hart was the supreme American, beside whom 
even Douglas Fairbanks paled into insignificance, and against whom 
Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford were no competition at all. Only 
one element in Hart's Westerns disturbed the literal-minded islanders. 
"Why do the white men so often leave their dead unburied?" they 
asked. Even the villain, thoroughly deserving of his fate when thrown 
from a cliff after a desperate encounter with the hero, should, they felt, 
have been given a decent burial, complete with weeping relatives and 
children with flowers! This very literal approach extended to other 
problems, as well: when Hart rode off with the heroine at the end, why 
was it never made clear whether he intended to make her his wife or 
his mistress? It was explained to the islanders that all these things 
could be taken for granted, that the villain was properly interred, and 
the heroine honorably married. But doubt remained. "If so," Polyne- 
sians reasoned, "why were they ashamed for us to know it?" The 
visiting European made a brave attempt to explain the theory of the 


movies, a theory that required the audience to imagine certain parts of 
the action. But even then the islanders had the last word. One of them 
commented, ingenuously, "But suppose we imagine the wrong thing, 
what then?" 

A particularly defined national, let alone international, audience for the 
Western cannot easily be recognized in view of several factors, all of 
which rely on the wide diversity of taste and opinion among movie 
patrons. Women obviously prefer love stories to Westerns, and yet in 
several cases such as High Noon, which presented an idealized woman's 
triumph in a man's world, and Duel in the Sun, which catered to the 
qq2 average woman's subconscious longing for exotic romance, women's in- 

terest and response has been very positive. On the whole, however, men 
are far more likely to be influenced by the Western than are women. 
Further, the recent trend of the psychological Western has tended to 
impress its views not only on the thinking adolescents and college 
students, but also on mature individuals in their forties and fifties. In 
spot interviews we have noted that there is no fundamental difference 
in the approach to the Western between people who live in cities and 
those who live in the country. While all welcome the tendency to 
greater authenticity and realism, less glamour and gloss, at the same 
time all audiences still want the factor which has always been the 
Western's stock-in-trade: action. 

Since the authentic Western has always been popular among interna- 
tional audiences, it is not surprising that, on occasion, some countries 
have turned out their own "Westerns." The term "Western" is geo- 
graphical rather than dramatically descriptive, referring to the locale 
of a story rather than to its content. But if The Great Train Robbery, 
made in Dover, New Jersey, in 1903 can be called a Western, then so 
can The Hanging at Jefferson City, an interesting little horse opera made 
in France not long afterwards. Ever since Broncho Billy and "Rio Jim" 
(as William S. Hart was known in France) earned the respect and ad- 
miration of European audiences, European film-makers have been 
producing Westerns, in small number only, but there have been inter- 
esting films among them. Inevitably, no single group of films has ever 
been more influenced by the traditions of the American Western than 
have these. The influence was especially strong in the pre-1913 period, 
when U. S. film-makers like Ince still treated the Indian as an indi- 
vidual, the equal of the white man. These little films, often imbued with 
a poetic sensitivity missing from the straightforward hero-versus-badman 
adventures, made their strongest mark on the French cinema, which 
duplicated their style quite creditably. 

Germany, and to a lesser degree France and Italy, still make their 
small quota of Westerns "rip-snorting" adventures of the old school. As 
the titles almost never fail to designate, they are invariably set in Texas, 
Arizona, or New Mexico. Italy produced a wild and woolly group of 
Wild Bill Hickok adventures, which, if the stills are an accurate criterion, 
contained as much violent action as any American Western. Even the 
Czechs produced a deft double-edged satire in a pleasing puppet film, 
Song of the Prairie (1952). It is not only satirized Westerns per se, but it 

The French conception of a 
frontier saloon: poker, liquor, a 
rodeo advertisement, and a bid 
for the cowboy tourist trade with 
a Spanish travel poster. A scene 
from Pendaison a Jefferson 
City (The Hanging at Jef- 
ferson City). 

particularly singled out the Autry-Rogers type of Western already 
almost a parody of itself. 

Unfortunately, relatively few of Europe's Westerns have been seen 
outside their native lands, presumably because they are not "prestige" 
or art-theater properties. Many European non- Western subjects that 
have been exported contain beautifully staged episodes of fast action in 
the Western mold, episodes that suggest that Westerns made with this 
kind of skill can be both vigorous and relatively authentic. Titles that 
come quickest to mind are Christian Jacque's Carmen (1942), with some 
particularly fine chases, the Swedish Rain Follows the Dew (like Shane 

and Wagonmaster , it utilized natural landscapes as an integral part of 
the film, not merely as scenic backdrops), and the grim Ride Tonight of 
1942 (with a Hart-like austerity, and belief in the need for personal 
sacrifice extending even to death in the interests of law and order) and 
most especially perhaps, the Italian In The Name of The Law (1948), a 
film in many ways similar to High Noon, and about which more will be 
said later in the chapter. 

Although England has yet to make an authentic Western, some films 
based upon British history drew heavily on American Westerns for 
basic patterns, for example, the early sound film, Dick Turpin, and Lorna 
324 Doone (1934). 

In more recent years, the Western formula was used more ambi- 
the western tiously in several large-scale productions, the most notable of which was 

Harry Watt's The Overlanders, a worthy rival to America's Red River, 
Howard Hawks' 1947 study of a prolonged cattle drive with equally 
fine sweep in the spectacular stampede sequences, and the genuine feel 
of epic pioneering. Although a modern story, the urgency and sense of 
a group working for national, rather than individual ends, was brought 
back to the screen because of the really vital importance of the under- 
taking: herds of Australian cattle had to be driven overland to keep them 
out of the hands of the Japanese. 

Perhaps the British film most influenced by Westerns was Diamond 
City (1950), a Rank production which, although laid in the diamond 
fields of Africa, might just as well have been set in the gold fields of 
California. The film abounded with saloon brawls, chases, stunts, and 
gun battles. 

Very popular in Germany in the Twenties were semi-Westerns and 
backwoods adventures of the James Fenimore Cooper variety. Since 
there was no regular flow of this type of Western from the United 
States, the German film industry made its own — and highly efficiently, 
too. Undoubtedly behind this interest were the books of Karl Mai, an 
extremely popular writer whose tales of adventure often outsold Zane 
Grey and Fenimore Cooper. His astounding knowledge and the books' 
apparent authenticity (Mai claimed to have lived among the Indians, 
and to be writing of events of which he had heard firsthand accounts) 
became all the more amazing when he was finally forced to admit that 
he was a fraud. A fraud he was, but a brilliant and imaginative one, 
for his entire knowledge of the West had been gleaned from the writings 
of others, and from American motion pictures. Some of his stories were 
even written from a prison cell. 

There has been a change in the style of the German Western since 

Bela Lugosi {extreme right) as 
the Indian hero Uncas of the 
German-made The Last of the 

the end of World War II. Before the war, they were often strongly 
nationalistic, sometimes built around obscure, or alleged, incidents in 
German and related history, sometimes, too, having more than just a 
little propaganda content. Such a film was Luis Trenker's Kaiser of 
California, a well-made but somewhat biased account of Sutter's spec- 
tacular rise and fall in California. At the same time, straightforward, 
non-propagandistic Westerns were also being made, such as Gold in New 
Frisco, released in Germany under that English title, an Otto Wernicke 
vehicle along the established lines of The Spoilers. 

For all their careful staging and often brilliantly executed action, the 
German Westerns lacked the sustained speed and simplicity of the 
American originals. Development would be painstaking and plodding; 
the protagonists would spend far too much time discussing and contem- 
plating before they acted. The elaborate production mountings, and the 
vigor and size of the action, when it came, certainly compensated for 
the long waits, but what truly exciting Westerns the Germans could have 
turned out had they only concentrated more on the plot essentials and 
movement, and less on sheer weight and padding! 

Two of the best German Westerns starred Hans Albers, an enor- 
mously popular player who enjoyed the same sort of adulation as did 

Clark Gable over an exactly corresponding period. He appeared in 
pictures which also stressed virile romance and action, but he got away 
with something that Gable could not: Albers delighted in outrageous 
sexual double-entendre dialogue and uninhibited swearing, usually 
quite off-the-cuff, to the despair of his producers, timorous of puritan 
protests, and to the delight of his audiences. 

An interesting film with Albers, Sergeant Berry (1938) discloses some 
of the strengths and weaknesses of the German Westerns. It was a wildly 

Hans Albers in Wasser fur 

extravagant adventure yarn with much of the flavor of such silent 
Douglas Fairbanks frolics as His Majesty the American. Obviously not 
meant to be taken seriously, at the same time it never descended to 
lampoon. Largely a vehicle for Albers, it cast him in a colorful Fair- 
banksian role with six or seven obvious, but enjoyably theatrical dis- 
guises and masquerades. 

In it, Albers went out West to round up the badmen. What followed 

was a Western of the old "shoot-em-up" school, complete even to the 

heroine's runaway buggy. Apart from its vitality and good humor, much 

unexpected entertainment also resulted (to the non-German spectator) 

from the director's quite alarming enlargements and reshapings of stock 

Western cliches. There were sombreros and gaily colored shirts from 

South of every border in the Western Hemisphere. All the Mexicans 

were resolutely named Don Pedro, Don Jose, or Don Diego, regardless 

of the fact that the duplication of names among a large contingent of 

Gauchos, bandidos, and rancheros resulted in no little confusion. And since 

it would be false to do otherwise, the Mexicans, when excited, restricted 

their expletives to the time-honored "Caramba!" The heroine's father, 327 

who had just cause to be excited, rated just about one "Caramba!" to 

every three or four lines of dialogue. THE international western 

These considerations apart, Sergeant Berry was a commendable effort. 
The sets were unusually lavish and the action scenes well staged, while 
the desert scenery — cactus included — looked authentic. The film did 
tend, however, to play for laughs as much as for melodrama and lacked 
the speed of good American Westerns. It also contained one very Ger- 
man ingredient: a decided touch of heavy vulgarity which would have 
been quite out of place in an American Western. This included some 
pointed sequences and "blue" dialogue involving Albers and the enter- 
prising heroine, and an episode which featured Albers running around 
nude (discreetly photographed from the rear!) after he had lost his 
clothes while swimming. 

The Horsemen (1952), a fine Russian film, beautifully photographed 
in color, with plenty of action, showed how carefully Soviet film-makers 
have studied the American Western and how readily, and efficiently, 
they can apply the technique of the Western to an essentially Russian 
theme, the resistance of the Russian peasantry to the Nazi occupation. 
In fact, the treatment smacked more of Riders of Death Valley with 
stampedes (creatively photographed from a helicopter), chases and 
fights climaxed by an admirably staged, photographed, and edited 
overland chase after a locomotive. 

There is, of course, a difference between the outright imitation of the 
Western (as in the German films), the utilization of Western techniques 
(as in Russia's The Horsemen) and the influence of the Western upon films 
that do not necessarily rely on Western plot or technique. 

Perhaps the most striking example of influence upon only casually re- 
lated subjects is provided by some of the postwar Italian films, and 
most specifically by the work of director Pietro Germi. If Germi's first 
picture, Lost Youth (1947), was inspired by American treatment of gang- 

Brazil's savage, realistic 
O Cangaceiro. 

ster and juvenile delinquency themes, then his second film, In the Name 
of the Law (1948), was unmistakably stamped with the mark of the 
Western, although it was released in the United States under the title 
of Mafia. Critics of both countries have noted its close affinity to the 

Dealing with the conflict between the superior law of the state and 
local law based on — and provoking — murder and violence, the film's 
theme had obvious connections with the Western theme of vigilante 
law. As the Italian critic Renzo Renzi noted: 

In this picture Germi borrows from the American formula a certain dramatic and 
narrative tranquillity, because it is a route which has already been tested . . . the 
imitation [of the Western] is furthered through details of action; the film begins 
with an ambush which reminds us of a stagecoach attack, and the backgrounds 
and landscape are alike. Massimo Girotti, alone against everyone (a hymn to the 
individual) finds his only true friend in a boy he meets in town. The boy's sub- 
sequent death serves as the emotional spring which convinces the hero that he 
should reconsider his decision to give up the fight. This is the resolving detail of 
the suspense element. 

This latter plot detail has, of course, always been one of the funda- 
mental motivating factors by which the Western transforms its hero 

from a man of peace to a man of justified violence. For example, Errol 
Flynn, in Dodge City, determinedly sets to work to clean up the town only 
after the death of a child, a death resulting directly from the hooli- 
ganism of the drunken heavies. Renzi goes on to point out that the con- 
flict between Massimo Girotti and Charles Vanel in Germi's film is 
resolved in much the same manner as that between John Wayne and 
Montgomery Clift in Red River, made a year earlier. 

In two other films, The Road to Hope (1951) and The Outlaw of Tacca 
del Lupo (1952), Germi continued to apply American, and specifically 
Western, formulas, but in both of them the American models were not 

in every case appropriate to Italian themes or, as in the case of The 309 

Road to Hope, a film very similar to the better-known Brazilian Can- 
gaqeiro (1950), to the purposes of the films themselves. the international western 

The experience of Germi in his enterprising, but unsuccessful, uti- 
lization of the Western model in Italian pictures is typical of similar 
experience by other Italian directors. In Germi's hands, the experiment 
came, however, nearest to a successful fruition. 

But the list of nations and films influenced by the American Western 
is long. The Japanese, Indians, Mexicans, Brazilians, and many other 
peoples have all gone to the American Western at one time or another 
for inspiration, and therefore it is fair to say that the Western saga, 
historically as well as cinematically, has crossed the frontiers of nations, 
becoming truly international in its spirit. 

The contemporary 


«fe - 

m f 


"Films help change mass attitudes i 
condition that these attitudes 
have already begun to change. " 



Since 1945, the Western film has seen an 
astonishing array of new trends, cycles, and 
changes of format, many of which have been 
already discussed in earlier chapters; yet the 
number of really important Westerns to 
have emerged is surprisingly small. A num- 
ber of ambitious productions, such as Red 
River, The Big Sky, and Rio Bravo, widely 
hailed as successors to Stagecoach, have sub- 
sequently been all but forgotten; it is perhaps 
no coincidence that all three were directed 
by Howard Hawks, an admirable director 
of melodramas with unusual depth and pace, 
but a man who has of late attempted to 
contrive inner layers of "meaning" where 
none are required, and who has also, like 
Henry King, demonstrated a liking for the 
spectacle for which he seems so ill suited. 
Red River, in particular, although ambitious 
in scope and impressive visually, appears 
quite pedestrian today; one must remember 
that this film probably received most of its 
critical acclaim on the basis of having ar- 
rived on the scene after a prolonged dearth 
of epic Westerns in the true sense of that 
term. However, it remains by far the best 
of this trio of Hawks Westerns. If overlong, 
at least its story line, spanning some twenty 
years and dealing predominantly with a 
long and arduous cattle drive, lent itself to 
protracted treatment, as the overly psycho- 
logical and talkative Rio Bravo did not. Not 
only were its characters free of the neuroses 
that were to trouble so many later "epic" 
protagonists, but they were also very much 


John Wayne and Mont- 
gomery Clift in Howard 
Hawks' Red River (1947). 


' 'a 






characters of flesh and blood. John Wayne especially, as the bitter old 
trail boss, was frequently shown in an unsympathetic light due to his 
ruthless, if justified, handling of his men, handling that included bull- 
whipping and other brutalities. 

If other Hawks films were more overbearing in their pretentiousness, 
Hawks, to be sure, had no copyright on the making of pretentious 
Westerns: William Wyler's star-studded but dull The Big Country was 
not nearly up to his simpler Hell's Heroes made a quarter of a century 

John Wayne rose from a star of 
"B" Westerns to a major star with 
his own production company. Today 
he is the logical successor to Gary 
Cooper and one of the half-dozen 
biggest "names" in the business. 

earlier, and MGM's remake of Cimarron was a complete failure, squan- 
dering its inherent epic qualities to a soap opera theme that infuriated 
Edna Ferber, author of the novel. 

The assembly-line look of many of the so-called super- Westerns made 
since 1950 may be attributed to a number of factors. For one thing, the 
disappearance of the "B" Western allowed plot cliches to creep back in, 
on some producers' theory that with fewer Westerns around, those that 
remained did not all have to aim diligently at originality. Thus the 
cliches persisted, although their presentation was better. The plot of 
Duel in the Sun spawned a number of outright imitations, such as The 

Halliday Brand, The Violent Men, and Untamed Frontier. Ford's Fort Apache 333 

was imitated in Two Flags West and other pictures showing martinet 

officers obsessed with hatred for the Indian. Ford's fine film, The Searchers, THE contemporary western 

which dealt with the rescue of a white woman kidnapped and sexually 
possessed by Indians, was imitated in Trooper Hook, and by Ford him- 
self, in Two Rode Together. Another contributing factor to the distressing 
uniformity of many of the bigger Westerns was the fact that Westerns, 
always reasonably safe commercial propositions, became vehicles for 
name stars, who were either slipping or working out the last few pictures 
of long-term contracts. Robert Taylor, Clark Gable, Stewart Granger, 
Gary Cooper, James Cagney, and Gregory Peck, at various periods in 
the Fifties, were shunted into large-scale but generally undistinguished 
motion pictures on the assumption that a top name plus a Western 
theme would guarantee box-office success. Gable's Westerns, Lone Star 
and Across the Wide Missouri, showed the production care and script 
values that a star of his caliber warranted, but many of the others were 
less notable, and some, like Peck's The Bravados, were without any 
redeeming factors whatsoever. 

No new directorial talent of note emerged in the period, and most of 
the established Western directors either declined or at best held their 
own. John Ford, switching to more sustained concentration on Westerns 
after the success of Fort Apache, gradually lost vitality; but even the 
more conventional of his works that followed had enough of the old 
visual beauty and dramatic power to succeed while Westerns made by 
other directors failed both as films and as commercial ventures. In The 
Horse Soldiers, a Civil War epic, Ford took a known historical incident 
and fashioned a lively adventure around it. Sergeant Rutledge, less sat- 
isfying due to a preponderance of studio sets, was rather shrewdly 
conceived so that it could be sold on the basis of "sex and sensation" 
rather than on its Western values. It offered a Negro militia sergeant as 
chief protagonist, and displayed refreshing honesty at least in its discus- 


A typically heroic Ford 
image, from The Horse 
Soldiers {1959). 

sion of racial problems. Two Rode Together, on the other hand, was a 
casually directed Western, generally lacking in dramatic values or real 
action but it was interesting for its psychological studies, such as the 
superbly acted and directed scene in which Mae Marsh, a white 
prisioner of the Indian for years, explains why she does not wish to live 
again among whites. 

Just as no new directors of stature emerged, no new Western stars 
were developed either. Audie Murphy, in his series at Universal, devel- 
oped into a far better actor than his earlier films had promised. Drums 
Across the River was an expertly made action picture; No Name on the Bul- 
let succeeded instead on exceptionally strong story value, while still others, 

The badman "hero" and the teen-age 
delinquent find a convenient mating in 
the figure of Billy the Kid. Audie 
Murphy with Albert Dekker in The 
Kid from Texas (J 949). 


e.g., Night Passage, presented an unexpectedly authentic picture of some 
phase or other of Western history. The little known film, Walk the Proud 
Land, was a sincere and well-written account of the life of an Indian 
agent, based on the autobiography of one of those unsung but often 
maligned officials. It is most unfortunate that Murphy's plan to film the 
life of the Western painter Remington never materialized. 

The most acclaimed and most influential Western of the past decade, 
High Moon, offered a strong dramatic role to Gary Cooper and an 
appealing title song. The film was a smash success at the box-office. It 
has been, however, somewhat overrated, since its script was inauthentic, 

too "modern," displaying little knowledge of the real conditions of the 335 

old West. Its direction was over-studied, but a major cinematic asset 
was the creative editing of Elmo Williams. The film created the im- 
pression among public and critics that the "adult Western" had finally 
arrived, and it exerted considerable influence on a whole flock of talk- 
ative horse operas that followed. Some of these were 3:10 to Yuma, At 
Gunpoint!, and Star in the Dust, all of which stressed the integrity of a 
fearless man who quietly goes about his dangerous job against the back- 
ground of a community's hesitance to accept risk and danger on behalf 
of law and order. 

Cooper, wearing unpicturesque garb and wrapped up in what seemed 
to be self-doubts, helped usher in the new breed of unglamorous and so- 
called "realistic" cowboys who were being introduced at the same time 
on television. This newest, and rather sudden, development found the 
lawman no longer only the instrument for the law's enforcement, but a 
man who had to mete out justice as well. A psychologist might with 
profit study the reasons why, in the Fifties, a rash of Westerns were 
made in which the hero had to lawfully execute the villain. In Star in 
the Dust, virtually the entire footage is spent outlining the problems 
facing a sheriff as he prepares to hang a killer. This morbid streak went 
one step further in the Robert Taylor vehicle, The Hangman, in which 
the lawman took on the fanatic, vengeful characteristics of a Mickey 
Spillane hero. And in The Bravados, we find Gregory Peck, not a lawman, 
taking the law into his own hands to track down and personally execute 
the members of a gang guilty of murder, robbery and rape. In the 
climax, with several deaths by now to the "hero's" credit, we suddenly 
find that those executed were actually innocent of the crimes for which 
they died; the fact that Peck had acted "in good faith," and that his 
victims were guilty of other crimes, seemed to make everything, if not 
quite right ethically, at least morally tolerable and legally acceptable! 

The physical shape of the Western was altered with the coming of the 

first three-dimensional films, "three-dimension" being a remarkable 
device which was sadly underexploited by producers, ruined by the 
carelessness of the majority of projectionists, and doomed later by 
Cinemascope and other wide-screened processes. One of the best exam- 
ples of three-dimensional photography was to be seen in Hondo (1953), 
which was also shown in a regular, non-stereoscopic vision. The West- 
ern was not harmed by technical innovations of this sort, and the broad 
expanses obtained a certain added majesty from the wider picture, 
while isolated action sequences — especially charges, chases, and other 
action designed for the horizontal frame — became somewhat more im- 
oo£. pressive. One of the best Westerns of the Fifties, Henry Hathaway's 

From Hell to Texas, made in Cinemascope, provided stunning color pho- 
the western tography of chases, cattle stampedes, and gun duels in the deserted 

streets, the new technique providing freshness and vitality to familiar 
material. The production was glossy, but the script had honesty and 
intelligence, recalling at times the simplicity of William S. Hart. The 
hero, a sincerely religious cowhand reluctantly forced into becoming a 
killer, was a well-written character, and the little Western town, with 
its shabby, austere wooden shacks flung up in the middle of the plains, 
resembled the authenic small towns of the Ince days — missing perhaps 
the shaggy hogs invariably squatting in the mud of the street. 

But if the wide screen helped make From Hell to Texas one of the two 
top Westerns of the Fifties, the other — George Stevens' Shane — was sadly 
hampered by it. Shane had been completed in leisurely, methodical 
fashion, just before the demand for the wide screen became irresistible. 
Paramount, later to develop the best of the wide-screen processes, 
Vista Vision, decided to release the film as a wide-screen production, 
even though it meant a drastic shearing off of the tops and bottoms of 
the picture. This mutilation, hard to take even in a routine film — faces 
were cut off at the eyebrows and in the middle of the mouth — amounted 
to butchery on Stevens' film, in which every image had been carefully 
and lovingly composed. Shane was dramatically a good enough work to 
survive the pictorial loss, but even those audiences who endorsed the 
film wholeheartedly could not have imagined just how much of the real 
value they were losing. 

A poetic and poignant Western, Shane was also an honestly violent 
one. The scene in which Elisha Cook, Jr., is knocked over backwards 
from the blast of a killer's six-shooter was quite a jolt after years of cli- 
ches in the presentation of gun fights. Such realism and Shane's basic 
plot, with its ending of sheer pathos, sent one's memories scurrying back 
to William Hart's The Toll Gate. 

The wide screen was used really creatively in only a few Westerns. 
The Charge at Feather River and White Feather had exciting panoramic 
vistas. The rambling discussions of At Gunpoint, a film almost totally 
devoid of action, seemed absurdly overblown on the giant screen, while 
the atmosphere of impending doom was hard to accept amid so much 
cheerful color. Wichita, one of the simplest and best old-school Westerns 
made in the Fifties, would certainly have been more impressive had not 
everything looked so "big" and "epic" on the Cinemascope screen. 

Soft politics 


Politically there was a softening in Westerns throughout the Fifties. 
The anti-Russian propaganda, which had figured so heavily for a while THE contemporary western 

in "B" Westerns, and even in such larger films as The World in His Arms, 
disappeared, probably because its limited possibilities had already been 
exhausted. And as long as there was no "hot war," audiences ''for West- 
erns could not really concern themselves with the Soviet menace on the 
frontier. The anti-Soviet "message" was instead diverted to espionage 
thrillers and science-fiction films. The characterization of a Nazi-stereo- 
type leader, such as Widmark's wagon boss in The Last Wagon, also dis- 
appeared. The Mickey Spillane or "tyrant" hero of Gregory Peck in 
The Bravados, a man without responsibility to others, recognizing no law 
other than his own, performing heroically, usually for his own personal 
satisfaction, has become a recurring figure, but fortunately not a dom- 
inate one. 

In other ways, the Western has been careful not to stick its political 
neck out. This is especially true in domestic politics, Hollywood paying 
particular attention to the South's delicate feelings. In Civil War films, 
and Westerns built around the subject, the South has emerged more 
sympathetically than ever before. A film like Seven Angry Men, a com- 
mendable attempt to make an off-beat historical Western, had to 
falsify and simplify certain aspects of the material in order to present 
abolitionist John Brown as a "nuisance" to both North and South, and 
really a man of no great importance! 

Teen-age and adult markets 

This pandering to audiences became noticeable in another, this time 
non-political way. Because of the increasing importance of the teen-age 
market in dramas, comedies, and musicals, there have been rather 
labored attempts to introduce juvenile delinquency into the Western, 

the classic example being The Young Guns with Russ Tamblyn, actually 
a rather interesting minor Western, spoiled only by being such an obvious 
attempt to transport The Blackboard Jungle to the West. In various films, 
Billy the Kid, the Daltons, and Jesse James have become progressively 
younger in the persons of Audie Murphy, Tony Curtis, Jeffrey Hunter, 
and other teen-age idols. The True Story of Jesse James has the distinction 
of being the most historically distorted picture of this group. In a film 
made in 1940, Jesse James, Tyrone Power had played the outlaw as a 
somewhat whitewashed Robin Hood, but still and always a man; here, 

Karl Maiden and Marlon 
Brando in One Eyed Jacks 


in the more up-to-date version, Jesse became a misunderstood, teen-age 
hero of Sherwood Forest. 

But if Hollywood recognizes a teen-age market, it also recognizes an 
adult one, and since 1950 it has ostensibly been catering to that more 
mature public, while carefully insuring that the offerings appeal to the 
juvenile trade, as well. The term "adult," coined in television program- 
ming, was given the added connotation by Hollywood of "sexy and 
shocking," for obvious reasons. After having gone the limit within a 

traditional Western framework in pictures like Johnny Concho in which 
Sinatra played a despicable and cowardly "hero," Western producers 
looked further afield for their source material. Thus, Last of the Coman- 
ches was actually a remake of Sahara, a World War II story, which was 
in itself a remake of the old Russian classic, The Thirteen. In 1962, Frank 
Sinatra, Peter Lawford, and Sammy Davis, Jr., presented their cavalry- 
Indian opus, Sergeants Three, based on Gunga Din, while Lawford was pre- 
paring a remake of The Great Train Robbery, that one-reel "blueprint" for 
Westerns that had been remade by Republic once already in the Forties. 
Where "adult" Westerns will go from here is problematical, although 
after the theme of incest in The Last Sunset it may be difficult to find 
new areas to explore. So far the West seems to have remained free of 
drug addiction and homosexuality, but with the new "free, adult screen," 
one wonders for how long. 



The modern West 

If the old West has not come off too well recently, there has been a 
worthwhile emphasis on the modern West, and not in those "B" efforts 
in which uranium mining supplanted the old stories in which gold 
mines were claim-jumped. Rodeo, Broncho Buster, and especially Nicholas 
Ray's The Lusty Men, with its sad opening reminiscent of The Grapes of 

How the West Was Won, 
the first Cinerama Western. 



Wrath, dealt with the empty and unglamorous lives of touring profes- 
sional rodeo riders. Three Young Texans by Delmar Daves and John 
Sturges' Bad Day at Black Rock dealt with problems in the contemporary 
West. John Huston's somewhat loose and ambiguous The Misfits often 
achieved real poignancy in its commentary on a disappearing way of 
life and on a fading breed of men. Cowboy, directed by Elmo Williams, 
was an excellent documentary on the cowboy's everyday life; Williams 
kept it generally realistic, but the use of ballads tended at times to roman- 
ticize the subject, and certain scenes appeared too patently staged. 

The ultimate in the application of The Method to the West in perform- 
ance, writing, and direction belongs to Paul Newman, the star, and to the 
writer and director of The Left Handed Gun, perhaps the most bizarre 
Western of them all, with The Method being employed at one point in 
a near-surrealist sequence that could have been borrowed bodily from 
Jean Vigo's ^ero de Conduite. Another application of The Method, in a 
strikingly personal style, was the long and expensive One Eyed Jacks, 
directed and acted by Marlon Brando, a fascinatingly discontinuous 
film superbly photographed, in which the Western theme is implemented 
by a utilization of the sea as if it were the prairie of a more conventional 
horse opera. But let us not forget that Ince especially, and also George 
O'Brien, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and others had made use of these 
same seascapes. One Eyed Jacks is not to be considered merely a Western, 
since it contains so much of Brando's fiery desire to express his personal 
philosophy; the formula of the Western genre has served him only as a 
springboard for his own rendering of the West and the Western hero. 

The enduring beauty of the West, 
free of restrictions and devoid of 
billboard advertising, will continue 
to appeal to a public that is in- 
creasingly hemmed in by the tensions 
and curtailments of modern living. 


There will always be an audience for the Western, for the Western 
represents romantic adventure and idealism, achievement, optimism for 
the future, justice, individualism, the beauty of the land, and the courage 
and independence of the individuals who won the land. It is in the West- 
ern that the American discovers himself again as one of the descendants 
of a people who knew how to work hard, who knew how to fight, who 
were prepared to die. This is all in contrast to the padded world in which 
the American so often finds himself today; the land is a little bit further 
away, and the day of the horse has passed. 

The West stands out above all this, pristine and pure, strong and 
brave. How often we may let our thoughts drift to the Great Outdoors, 
wishing that we were once more there! And it is the peculiar function of 
the Western to provide the vehicle for our dreams, since in the general 
outline we have settled on our realities. Under such circumstances, there 
will surely always be a public to support the Western, and viewing our 
contemporary life, it is a public likely to increase rather than decrease 
with the passing of years. 

With the projected remake of The Great Tram Robbery, the Western is 
coming full circle. With the release of MGM's How the West Was Won, it 
may also be approaching a new plateau. This first non-travelogue fea- 
ture in the Cinerama process certainly seems to be ambitious enough, 
depending on directors like John Ford and Henry Hathaway among 
others, and actors on the order of Henry Fonda, John Wayne, and 
Richard Widmark, with a script to tell in five parts the history of the 
real West. Whether the film will be as good as its potential, for the sake 
of the nation's history and the only truly classical genre in the American 
cinema, or whether it will turn out to be a ponderous "prestige" bore 
like Ben Hur in its field, will be known soon. 

It has been a distressingly long time now since such excellent Westerns 
as Shane, and before it, Wagonmaster, Stagecoach, and The Toll Gate, 
appeared. But if a nation today can respond to candidates' appeals 
for a return to the old values and spirit which made that nation great, 
then surely films will continue to be made by creative men depicting that 
history and the authenticity of the romance. Even at this writing, three 
new Westerns have been released which restore much integrity to 
this genre: Lonely are the Brave, starring Kirk Douglas; John Ford's The 
Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, starring John Wayne and James Stewart; 
and Ride the High Country, starring Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott. 



Abbott, Bud, 254, 320 

Abilene Town, 256 

Ace of Clubs, The, 147 

Ace of the Saddle, 129 

Acord, Art, 161, 193, 229 

Across the Great Divide, 50 

Across the Wide Missouri, 282, 333 
T y\ /J f^ -«j- Adams, Ernie, 2 1 9 

J.I1CJ.CX Adams, Ted, 232 

Adventures of Captain Bonneville, U.S.A., The, 1 

Adventures of Dollie, The, 61 

Adventures of Robin Hood, The, 289 

Aitken, Harry, 77, 82 

Aitken, Roy, 77 

Aladdin and His Lamp, 114 

Alaman, Lucas, 4 

Alamo, The, 123 

Albers, Hans, 325-327 

Aldrich, Robert, 20 

Allen, Bob, 186, 220 

Allen, Rex, 301, 307 

Along Came Jones, 255 

Amateur Cracksman, The, 53 

Ambush, 291 

America, 66 

American Aristocracy, 124 

Americano, The, 123 

Anderson, "Broncho Billy," 52-55, 56, 59, 61, 
75, 112, 113, 182,301,322 

Andrews, Dana, 251, 274 

Annie Get Your Gun, 249 

"Annie Laurie," 127 

"Annie Oakley," 309 

Another Man's Boots, 146, 155 

Ansara, Michael, 315 

Apache, 190 

Apfel, Oscar, 127 

Applause, 173 

Arbuckle, Roscoe "Fatty," 167 

Aristarco, Guido, 42 

Arizona, 125, 247-248 



Arizona Ames, 198 

Arizona Bound, 259 

Arizona Cyclone, 255 

Anzoman, The, 202, 203 

Arlen, Richard, 173 

Army Girl, 289 

Arness, James, 314 

Arnold, Edward, 203 

Arnold, Elliott, 315 

Arrow in the Dust, 28 

Arthur, Jean, 204 

Aryan, The, 92, 96 

Astor, Mary, 172 

Astoria, 7 

At Gunpoint, 42, 280-281, 335, 337 

Atonement of Gosta Berling, 91 

August, Joseph, 83, 91, 93 

Autry, Gene, 13-15, 20, 26, 30-31, 54, 109, 
115, 119, 184-185, 193, 197, 206, 210-216, 
222, 257, 262, 296, 301, 308-314, 340 

Avenging Trail, The, 127 

Avenging Waters, 220 

Ayres, Lew, 277 

Back to the Primitive, 112 
Bad Bascomb, 80, 242 
Bad Day at Black Rock, 340 
Badger, Clarence, 167 
Badman of Brimstone, The, 242 
Badman of Wyoming, The, 242 
Badman's Gold, 306 
Badmen of Missouri, 241, 283 
Badmen 's Territory, 1 
Baker, Bob, 216, 218 
Ballew, Smith, 207, 216,221 
Bancroft, George, 136, 166 
Bandemann, Daniel E., 76 
Bandit and the Preacher, The, 78 
Bandit's Baby, The, 152 
Bannon, Jim, 294-295 
Bar 20 Rides Again, The, 206 
Bara,Theda, 115 
Barbed Wire, 37 
Bare Fists, 129 
Bare West, The, 307 
Bargain, The, 78 
Bari, Lynn, 270 
Barker, Reginald, 78, 158 

Barnes, George, 50 

Barricade, 280 

Barrie, James, 132 

Barrier, The, 171 

Barry, Donald, 257 

Barrymore,John, 115 

Barrymore, Lionel, 63, 193, 230 

Barton, Buzz, 148, 158 

Bascom, "Texas Rose," 306 

Bass, Sam, 10, 243 

Battle at Elderbush Gulch, The, 63 

Battle of Apache Pass, The, 282 

Battle of Gettysburg, The, 67 

Baxter, Anne, 252 

Baxter, Warner, 203 

Bazin, Andre, 8, 19, 318 

Bean, Judge Roy, 247, 315 

Beaudine, William, 116 

Beauty and the Bandit, 261 

Beebe, Ford, 255 

Beery, Noah, 165, 171, 210 

Beery, Noah, Jr., 233 

Beery, Wallace, 80, 135, 167, 177, 242, 245 

Beggars of Life, 251 

Bell, Rex, 158, 194, 199, 221, 292 

Bellah, James Warner, 170 

Bellamy, Madge, 137 

Ben Hur, 76, 155, 288, 289, 291, 293, 341 

Bend of the River, 279 

Bennet, Spencer Gordon, 229, 286-287 

Bennett, Constance, 230 

Bennett, Joan, 206 

Benny, Jack, 183, 254 

Bernard, Dorothy, 63 

Best Bad Man, The, 171 

Best of the Badmen, 243 

Beutel, Jack, 268 

Bickford, Charles, 233 

Big Country, The, 164, 332 

Big Parade, The, 205 

Big Show, The, 296 

Big Sky, The, 7, 331 

Big Sombrero, The, 262 

Big Trail, The, 139, 142, 177-178, 195, 240, 247 

Bill, Pawnee, Jr., 148 

Billy the Kid, 243, 266 

Billy The Kid, 36, 103, 177, 200, 205, 241, 242, 

243, 245, 246 
Birth of a Nation, The, 65, 82 
Bitter Creek, 27 

Bitzer, G. W. "Billy," 61 

Black Bart (The PO-8), 3, 23 

Blackboard Jungle, The, 338 

Blazing the Overland Trail, 234 

Blind Husbands, 147 

Blystone, Jack, 116 

Blue, Monte, 233 

Blue Blazes, 159 

Blue Blazes Rawden, 95 

Bogart, Humphrey, 242, 243 

Boggs, Francis, 1 1 1 

Bold Bank Robbery, The, 50 

Bond, Ward, 316 

Boots and Saddles, 56-57, 214 

Border Brigands, 196 

Border Cavalier, The, 164 

Border G-Man, 42, 222 

Border Legion, The, 165 

Borgnine, Ernest, 274 

Bom to the West, 1 7 1 

Boss of Hangtown Mesa, The, 255 

Boule de Suif, 238 

Bow, Clara, 167, 194 

Boy Rider, The, 158 

Boyd, Bill, 258 

Boyd, William, 30, 183, 186, 206, 208, 289, 

Brabin, Charles, 172 
Bradbury, Robert N., 147, 158 
Bradford, Lane, 257 
Brand, Max, 7 
Branded Men, 224 
Branding Broadway, 95-96 
Brando, Marlon, 20, 340 
Bravados, The, 333, 335, 337 
"Brave Eagle," 315 
Braveheart, 171 
Breed of Men, 96 
Brennan, Walter, 172, 247, 250 
Brenon, Herbert, 91 
Brent, George, 221 
Bretherton, Howard, 160 
Bride of Tabawa, The, 58 
Broken Arrow, 18-19, 38, 42, 155, 281-282 
"Broken Arrow," (TV), 315 
Broken Lance, 282 
Broken Ways, 63 
Bromfieldjohn, 315 
Broncho Billy and the Baby, 53 
Broncho Buster, 339 

Branson, Betty, 167, 171 

Brooks, Louise, 224 

Brooks, Richard, 22 

Brower, Otto, 289, 292 

Brown, Harry Joe, 155 

Brown, John, 242, 337 

Brown, Johnny Mack, 103, 177, 188, 189, 213, 

218, 222, 231, 232, 255, 257, 259-260, 297, 

Brown, Karl, 132 
Buccaneer, The, 288 
Buchanan, Edgar, 315 
Buck Benny Rides Again, 183, 254 
Bucking Broadway, 129 
Buckskin Frontier, 256 
Buffalo Bill, 249 
Bugle Call, The, 123 
Bull, Charles, 137 
Bulldog Courage, 224 
Bullet (horse), 140 
Bufiuel, Luis, 265 
Burgess, Dorothy, 204 
Burke, Billie, 93 
Burnette, Smiley, 21 1-213, 257 
Burns, Bob, 148 
Bushman, Francis X., 53, 158 
Bushman, Francis X., Jr., 199 
Buttram, Pat, 309 

Cabanne, Christy, 63 

Cagney, James, 37, 242, 333 

Cahiers du Cinema, 19 

Cahn, Edward L., 102, 200, 202 

Calamity Jane, 204 

Calamity Jane and Sam Bass, 10 

Calhern, Louis, 203 

Calhoun, Rory, 306 

California, 142, 158-159 

California Frontier, 220 

Call of the Prairie, 206 

Calleia, Joseph, 256 

Callenbach, Ernest, 16, 18, 144 

Cameo Kirby, 136 

Cameron, Rod, 233, 255, 276 

Campbell, Colin, 113 

Canadian Pacific, 143 

Cansino, Rita (Hayworth), 224 




Canutt, Yakima, 149, 157, 171, 185, 222, 229, 
240, 289, 291-293, 296, 297, 299, 306 

Captain Fly by Night, 164 

Capture, The, 277 

Carey, Harry, 63, 107, 123, 128-129, 149-150, 
161, 194, 202, 203, 292 

Carlo, Yvonne de, 271 

Carmen, 323 

Carne, Marcel, 276 

Carpenter, "Big Red," 306 

Carpenter, John, 305-306 

Carradine, John, 241 

Carrillo, Leo, 233 

Carson, Kit, 234, 313 

Carson, Sunset, 213, 257 

Carver, Bill, 8 

Cash Parnsh's Pal, 80 

Cason, John, 257 

Cass County Boys, 215 

Cassidy, Butch, 8 

Cassidy, Edward, 257 

Cassidy of Bar 20, 206 

Castello, Giulio Cesare, 16 

Castle, Peggie, 276 

Cavalry, 222 

Champion (horse), 31 

Chandler, Jeff, 39, 281 

Chandler, Lane, 171, 194, 220 

Chandler, Raymond, 260 

Chaney, Lon,Jr., 221,315 

Chaney, Lon, Sr., 193, 233 

Chaplin, Charlie, 53, 91, 321 

Charge at Feather River, The, 337 

Charge of the Light Brigade, The, 289, 290 

Chase, Charlie, 230 

Chatterton, Tom, 78 

Cherokee Strip, 216, 256 

Cheseboro, George, 232 

"Cheyenne," 314 

Chief Crazy Horse, 1 1, 282 

Chinook (dog), 295 

Churchill, Berton, 238 

Chip of the Flying U, 113 

Cid, El, 291 

Cimarron, 37, 102, 175, 178, 203, 247, 333 

Circle of Death, 194 

"Cisco Kid," 58 

Civilization, 68 

Claim, The, 127 

Clanton clan, 250 

Clark, Daniel B., 116-120 

Clark, Walter Van Tilburg, 7, 251 

Clift, Montgomery, 305, 329 

Clifton, Elmer, 63 

Clyde, Andy, 262 

Cochise, 18 

Cobb, Edmund, 148, 159, 185, 225 

Code of the West, The, 165 

Cody, William Frederick (Buffalo Bill), 6, 46, 

204,221, 224 
Cody, William Frederick, Jr., 147 
Coffin, Tristram, 316 
Cold Deck, The, 92 
Collins, Lewis D., 255 
Colorado Territory, 276 
Come on Cowboys, 223 
Commancheros, The, 290 
Compson, Betty, 135 
Conqueror, The, 127 
Conversion of Frosty Blake, The, 80 
Conway, Jack, 63, 116 
Cook, Elisha,Jr., 336 
Cooper, Gary, 42, 54, 104, 171, 173, 190, 197, 

204, 244-245, 247, 255, 308, 317, 333, 335 
Cooper, James Fenimore, 38, 167, 315, 324 
Corporal's Daughter, The, 57 
Corrigan, Ray, 213, 223, 261, 294, 316 
Cortez, Ricardo, 135 
Costello, Lou, 254, 320 
Covered Wagon, The, 36, 64, 96, 101, 126, 131- 

136, 138-140, 142-143, 197, 204, 206, 223, 

256, 276 
Cow Country, 276 
Cowboy, 340 

Cowboy and the Countess, The, 1 5 1 
Cowboy and the Indians, The, 262 
Cowboy Commandos, 43, 261 
Cowboy Cop, The, 157 
Cowboy Star, The, 220 
Crabbe, Buster, 198, 243, 258 
Cradle of Courage, The, 98 
Craig, James, 246 
Crain, Jeanne, 270 
Crawford, Joan, 222, 260, 276 
Crazy Horse, 1 
Crime and Punishment, 220 
Crimson Trail, The, 196 
Cripple Creek Barroom, 46 

Crisp, Donald, 63, 256 

Crook Buster, 161 

Cruze, James, 13, 64, 72, 131-136, 137, 

142, 145, 204 
Cry from the Wilderness, A, 57 
Cupid's Roundup, 114 
Curtis, Dick, 32, 219 
Curtis, Tony, 294, 306, 338 
Curwood, James Oliver, 295 
Custer, Bob, 148, 157, 194, 225 
Custer, George Armstrong, 11-12, 244 
Custer's Last Fight, 67 
Custer's Last Stand, 57, 231 
Cyclone Cowboy, The, 172 


Dakota, 293 
Dalton, Dorothy, 82 
Daltons, The, 243 
Daltons' Women, The, 307 
Daniel Boone, 221 
Danton, Charles, 137 
Daredevil, The, 1 1 5 
Dark Command, 293 
Darkening Trail, The, 80 
Darro, Frankie, 148, 157 
Darwell,Jane, 252 
Daves, Delmer, 18, 42, 155, 281 
Davies, Marion, 103, 147 
Davis, Bette, 155, 213-214, 317 
Davis, Gail, 309 
Davis, Rufe, 224 
Davis, Sammy, Jr., 339 
Davy Crockett in Hearts United, 59 
Dawn on the Great Divide, 188, 194 
Daze of the West, 164 
Dean, Eddie, 217, 257, 258, 302 
Death Valley, 172-173 
Dee, Frances, 256 
DeFore, Don, 256 
Dekker, Albert, 256 

DeMille, Cecil B., 91, 113, 143, 146, 165, 176, 
204, 206, 237, 244-245, 270, 288, 312, 319 
Denver and Rio Grande, The, 143 
Denver Daily News, 9 
Desert Dust, 164 
Desert Gold, 171, 198 
Desert Man, The, 92 

Deserter, The, 123, 217 

Desmond, William, 127, 148, 195, 203, 229, 

Desperado, The, 278 
Desperadoes, 248 
Desperate Trails, 255 
Destry Rides Again, 120, 253, 266 
Devil Horse, The, 171, 194, 292 
Devil's Saddle Legion, 2 1 6 
Devine, Andy, 202 
Dew, Eddie, 257 
Diamond City, 324 
Diary of a Lost Girl, 224 
Dick Turpin, 117, 324 
Dietrich, Marlene, 253 
Dirty Gertie From Harlem, 283 
Disciple, The, 82 

"Discours sur la Me'thode du Western," 20 
Disney, Walt, 309, 314 
Distant Drums, 32 

Dix, Richard, 168, 203, 256, 289, 308 
Dmytryk, Edward, 13, 20 
Dodd, Jimmy, 224 
Dodge City, 203, 243, 299, 306, 329 
Douglas, Earle, 149 
Douglas, Kirk, 270 
Down the Wyoming Trail, 217 
"Dragnet," 313 
Drake, Oliver, 158 
Dream Street, 173 
Drew, Ellen, 244 
Dreyer, Carl, 279 
Drummer of the Eighth, The, 69 
Drums Across the River, 306, 334 
Dude Goes West, The, 255 
Dude Ranger, 221 

Duel in the Sun, 256, 268-271, 289, 322, 333 
Duff, Howard, 10 
du Maurier, Daphne, 279 
Dumb Girl of Portia, The, 156 
Duncan, William, 229 
Dunlap, Scott R., 151, 207, 217 
Dunstan, G. W., 104, 106 
Du Par, Edwin, 160 
Dupont, E. A., 202 
Durand of the Badlands, 114 
Durant, Vice President of Union Pacific 

Railroad, 139, 182 
Kid, 261 




Dwan, Allan, 125 
Dwire, Earl, 183 
Dynamite (dog), 159 
Dynamite Ranch, 197 

Eagle's Brood, The, 206 

Eagleshirt, William, 70 

Earle, Edward, 286-287 

Earp, Wyatt, 6, 13, 104, 201, 249-250 

Eason, Reeves B., 156, 229, 288-289 

East of Broadway, 164 

Eddy, Nelson, 203, 245 

Edeson, Robert, 78 

Eisenstein, Sergei M., 46, 142, 203 

Elliott, Bill, 27-28, 116, 186, 213, 257, 262, 

Elliott, Gordon, 216, 220 
Ellison, James, 204, 206, 208 
Emerson, John, 63, 93 
End of the Trail, The, 220 
Enemies of the Law, 42 
Engle, Billy, 164 
English, John, 309 
English, Maria, 274 
Ermine, Will, 7 
Evans, Dale, 312 
Eyton, Bessie, 1 1 3 

Fair Warning, 221 

Fairbanks, Douglas, Jr., 294 

Fairbanks, Douglas, Sr., 82, 91, 95, 123-129, 

Fairbanks, William, 149, 229 
Faith Endunn', 126 
Fancy Pants, 254 
Fangs of Destiny, 159 
Far Country, The, 279 
Farewell to Arms, A, 290 
Fargo, 37 

Fargo Express, 197 
Farnum, Dustin, 82, 156 
Farnum, Franklyn, 127 
Farnum, William, 113, 127, 232 
Farr, Felicia, 274 
Farrow, John, 275 
Fejos, Paul, 202 

Ferber, Edna, 333 

Ferguson, Al, 148 

Feuer, Cy, 214 

Fields, Stanley, 183 

Fight for Love, A, 129 

Fighting Blood, 63, 65-67, 286 

Fighting Caravans, 197, 204 

Fighting Grin, The, 127 

Finney, Edward, 217 

Fire Barrier, The, 164 

Fitzmaurice, George, 172 

Flagg, James Montgomery, 82, 104 

Flaherty, Robert, 290 

Flaming Frontier, The, 156 

Flash Gordon, 233 

Fleming, Victor, 125, 173 

Flesh and the Spur, 271, 274-275 

Flirting with Fate, 123 

Flynn, Errol, 11, 155, 243, 328-329 

Fog Man, The, 157 

Fonda, Henry, 39, 104, 241, 252, 341 

Foran, Dick, 203, 216 

Forbes, Scott, 314 

Forbidden Trails, 259 

Ford, Francis, 127, 146,251 

Ford, Glenn, 274, 294 

Ford, John, 12-13, 16, 38, 39, 41, 54, 63, 65, 
72, 102, 104, 116, 117, 128-129, 133, 136- 
143, 145, 164, 170, 175, 188, 195, 200, 217, 
237-240, 248-251, 259, 270, 275, 289, 294, 

Forde, Gene, 1 16 

Forlorn River, 171 

Fort Apache, 16, 39, 250, 275, 333 

Fort Osage, 38 

Fortieth Door, The, 228 

Forty Thieves, 208 

Foster, Preston, 244-245 

Four Faces West, 256 

Fox, William, 113-117 

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, 243 

Franklin, Chester, 63, 91, 114, 160, 291 

Franklin, Sidney, 63, 91, 114 
Frazer, Robert, 167 
Fredericks, Ellsworth, 271 

Freighters of Destiny, 221 
French, Valerie, 274 
Freuler, John, 77 
Friendly Persuasion, 271 

Frisbie, Robert Dean, 321 

Fritz (pony), 104, 107, 118, 299 

From Caligari to Hitler, 265 

From Hell to Texas, 336 

"Frontier," 316 

Frontier Gal, 255 

Frontier Marshall, 249-250 

Frontiers of '49, 220 

Frontiersman, The, 159 

Frost, Terry, 257 

Fuller, Samuel, 18 

Fung, Willie, 283 

Furies, The, 276, 279 

Furthman, Jules, 136, 268 

Gable, Clark, 206, 213-214, 245, 274, 282, 

314, 326, 333 
Galloping Dynamite, 224 
Galloping Ghost, The, 288 
Galloping Thru, 157 
Gangster's Enemy No. I, 42 
Gangsters of the Frontier, 42 
Garbo, Greta, 193, 222, 260 
Garfield, John, 199 
Garrett, Pat, 268 
Gay Cavalier, The, 261 
Gaynor, Janet, 137 
Gehrig, Lou, 221 
General, The, 254 
Gentle Annie, 246 
Gentle Cyclone, The, 150-151 
Gentleman from Blue Gulch, The, 80 
Gentlemen With Guns, 258 
George III, King of England, 3 
Gerber, Neva, 148 
Germi, Pietro, 327-329 
Geronimo, 12, 38 
Gerommo, 11-12, 244-245 
Ghost Town Gold, 223 
Gibson, Hoot, 25, 109, 129, 146-147, 149- 

150, 156, 161, 164, 174, 175, 185, 193, 203, 

Gide, Andre, 43 
Gilbert, Helen, 173 
Gilbert, John, 83, 136 
Gilmore, Lillian, 157 
Girl of the Golden West, The, 203 

Girotti, Massimo, 329 

Gish, Dorothy, 63 

Gish, Lillian, 63, 65, 166 

Glaum, Louise, 83, 87 

Go West, 167 

Goddard, Paulette, 244, 270 

Goddess of Sagebrush Gulch, The, 63 

God's Country and the Woman, 203 

Gold in New Frisco, 325 

Gold Mine in the Sky, 215 

Gold Prospectors, The, 58-59 

Golden Princess, The, 167 

Goldstein, Leonard, 249 

Good, Frank B., 116 

Good as Gold, 151 

Good Bad Man, The, 124 

Good Time Girl, 265 

Gordon, Alex, 306 

Gordon, C. Henry, 220 

Gordon of Ghost City, 232 

Goudal, Jetta, 166 

Graham, Fred, 294 

Grand Hotel, 195, 238 

Granger, Stewart, 22, 333 

Grant, Kirby, 256, 314 

Grapes of Wrath, The, 339-340 

Graybill, Joseph, 64 

Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, The, 

Great Barrier, The, 142 

Great K& A Robbery, The, 1 18 

Great Bank Robbery, The, 50 

Great Divide, The, 167 

Great Man's Lady, The, 249 

Great Tram Robbery, The, 9, 47-53, 59, 181- 

286, 339, 341 
Greatest Show on Earth, The, 312 
Greed, 166, 172 
Greeley, Horace, 140, 295 
Green, Alfred E., 256 
Grey, Zane, 7, 38, 118, 119, 142, 165, 

169-171, 174, 197, 198, 204, 210, 220, 

248, 255, 324 
Grey Vulture, The, 154 
Griffith, David, 13, 51, 58, 59, 61-68, 72 

82, 91-93, 123, 131, 132, 138, 139, 

150, 173, 217, 247, 268, 269, 285-287 
Grit, 80 

Guffey, Burnett, 139 
Guizar, Tito, 255-256 



, 77, 



Gulliver, Dorothy, 232 

Gun Crazy, 199 

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, 278 

Gun Fighter, The, 92 

Gunfighter, The, 16, 127, 277-278, 280 

Gun Fire, 194, 199, 210 

GungaDin, 291, 339 

Gunman from Bodie, The, 259 

"Gunsmoke," 313 

Guthrie, A. B., 7, 170 


Haeckle, A. W., 222 

Hale, Alan, 134, 243 

Hale, Monte, 216, 257, 301 

Half-Breed, The, 124 

Hall, Jon, 270 

Hall, Porter, 204 

Hall, William, 233 

Hallelujah, 173 

Halliday Brand, The, 333 

Hamilton, Gilbert, 80 

Hamilton, Neil, 66, 171 

Hammett, Dashiel, 170, 260 

Hanging at Jefferson City, The, 182, 322 

Hangman, The, 335 

Hanks, Deaf Charlie, 8 

Hanson, Lars, 166 

Hardy, Oliver, 253 

Harlan, Russell, 276 

Harron, John, 159 

Harrison's Reports, 145, 154, 157, 158, 166, 167 

Harron, Robert, 63, 65, 123 

Hart, John, 315 

Hart, Mary, 80, 106, 210 

Hart, Neal, 128, 149 

Hart, William S., Jr., 10, 13, 25, 28, 30, 31, 54, 
67,72,75-107, 109, 112, 114, 116, 119,126, 
128, 129, 131, 132, 146, 149-150, 154, 170, 
183-184, 195, 209, 240, 256, 274, 299, 305, 
308, 311, 317, 321, 322, 336 

Harte, Bret, 7, 129 

Harvey, Don, 309 

Hathaway, Henry, 197-198, 244, 278, 336, 341 

Hatton, Raymond, 183, 202, 224, 259, 260 

"Have Gun, Will Travel," 316 

Hawk, Fred, 148 

Hawk of Powder River, 302 

Hawks, Howard, 204, 288, 324, 331 

Haycox, Ernest, 7, 238-239 

Hayden, Russell, 208, 255-262 

Hayden, Sterling, 28, 271, 306 

Hayes, George, 204 

Hayworth, Rita, 199 

Hazards of Helen, The, 227 

Headin' South, 125 

Heading East, 220 

Headrick, Richard, 97 

Hearst, William Randolph, 82 

Heart of a Lion, 127 

Heart of an Indian, The, 70-71, 155, 282 

Heart of Texas Ryan, The, 1 1 3 

Heart of the North, 203 

Heart of the Rockies, 223 

Heart of the West, 7, 206 

Helen of Troy, 293 

Hellman, Sam, 249 

Hell's Heroes, 164, 200, 202, 332 

Hell's Hinges, 82-91, 96, 99, 150, 195 

Henabery, Joseph, 63 

Henderson, Dell, 63, 164 

Henry, O., 7, 58, 261 

Henry, William, 296 

Herman, Al, 148 

Hero of the Big Snows, A, 160 

Heroes of the Alamo, 220 

Heroes of the Range, 220 

Heroes of the Saddle, 223 

Hersholt, Jean, 83 

Heston, Charlton, 136, 293 

Hickok, Wild Bill, 6, 14, 105-106, 140, 204, 

High Hand, The, 157 
High Noon, 16, 19, 42, 79, 190, 201, 243, 275, 

280-281,313, 322,324, 335 
Hill Billy, 129 
Hillyer, Lambert, 92, 93, 104, 105, 116, 118, 

His Bitter Pill, 253 
His Majesty the American, 326 
His Picture in the Papers, 123-124 
Hitchin' Posts, 136 

Hold-up of the Rocky Mountain Express, The, 50 
Holliday, Doc, 250 
Hollingsworth, Alfred, 83, 86 

Hollywood Cowboy, 221 

Hollywood Roundup, 220 

Hollywood Thnllmakers, 296 

Holt, Jack, 165, 171, 186, 220, 229 

Holt, Tim, 189, 250, 255, 301 

Hondo, 275, 336 

"Hopalong Cassidy," (TV), 312 

Hopalong Cassidy, 206 

Hope, Bob, 254 

Hopper, DeWolf, 93 

Hoppy Serves a Writ, 208 

Hopton, Russell, 202 

Horan, James D., 8 

Horse Soldiers, The, 333 

Horsemen, The, 327 

Houck, Joy, 304 

Hough, Emerson, 7, 135 

House of Frankenstein, 243 

House of Strangers, 282 

Houston, George, 258 

Houston, Sam, 289 

How the West Was Won, 341 

Howard, David, 211 

Howard, William K., 161, 164-166, 198 

Howe, James Wong, 242 

Howes, Reed, 232 

Hoxie, Al, 147 

Hoxie, Jack, 95, 156-157, 164, 225 

Hughes, Howard, 266, 268 

Hughes, Rupert, 82 

Humes, Fred, 164 

Hunchback of Notre Dame, The, 161 

Hunted Gold, 219 

Hunter, Jeffrey, 270, 338 

Hurricane Express, The, 292 

Hurst, Paul, 252 

Huston, John, 15, 202, 340 

Huston, Walter, 173, 202, 267-268 

Huxley, Aldous, 43 

I Killed Gerommo, 13 
Iconoclast, The, 67 
In Early Arizona, 220 
In Old Arizona, 56, 175, 
In Old Oklahoma, 293 
In Old Santa Fe, 211 

In the Badlands, 57 

In the Days of the Thundering Herd, 1 12 

In The Name of The Law, 324, 328 

Ince, Ralph, 202 

Ince, Thomas, 13, 58, 59, 61, 63, 67-72, 76- 
79, 82, 92, 93, 123, 132, 135, 155, 171, 181, 
190, 217, 242, 285-287, 309, 322, 336, 340 

Indian Wife's Devotion, An, 58 

Indians Are Coming, The, 175-176 

Indian's Gratitude, An, 56 

Ingraham, Lloyd, 63, 154 

Ingram, Jack, 257 

Iron Horse, The, 36, 117, 129, 136, 139-143, 
145, 181, 195, 237-240, 256, 276 

Iron Strain, The, 82 

Irving, Washington, 7 

Isley, Phyllis, 224 

Ivanhoe, 293 

Jaccard, Jacques, 229 

Jack and the Beanstalk, 1 14 

Jack McCall, Desperado, 308 

Jack Slade, 28-29 

Jackman, Fred, 171 

Jackson, Marion, 154 

Jacobs, Lewis, 9 

Jacque, Christian, 323 

Jagger, Dean, 241 

James, Alan, 196 

James, Jesse, 37, 241 

Janice Meredith, 147, 154 

Jennings, Al, 104 

Jesse James, 27, 57, 154, 242-243, 248, 277, 338 

Jesse James' Women, 307 

Jewel Robbery, 1 95 

"Jim Bowie," 314 

John Petticoats, 95, 96, 104 

Johnny Concho, 281, 339 

Johnny Guitar, 276 

Jolley, Stanford, 257 

Jones, Buck, 30, 117, 149-151, 183, 185, 186, 

188, 193, 195-197, 217, 219, 220, 225, 231, 

259, 282, 299, 317 
Jones, Dick, 309 
Jones, Jennifer, 224, 230, 270 
Jubal, 21 A 


Judgement Book, 194 
Julius Caesar, 56 
Just Tony, 116, 117 

Kyne, Peter B., 53, 105, 112, 145, 172, 200, 




Kafka, Franz, 43 

Kaiser of California, 325 

Kansan, The, 256 

Kansas Pacific, 143 

Kansas Territory, 27 

Katzman, Sam, 224 

Kay, Edward J., 259 

Kazan, Elia, 281 

Keaton, Buster, 167, 209, 253 

Keene, Tom, 221, 261 

Kelland, Clarence Buddington, 247 

Kellerman, Annette, 115 

Kelly, Paul, 221 

Kendall, Patricia, 319 

Kennedy, Arthur, 294 

Kennedy, Bill, 233 

Kennedy, Douglas, 11, 315, 316 

Kennedy, John F., 120 

Kennedy, Joseph P., 120 

Keno Bates, Liar, 80-81 

Kenyon, Doris, 172 

Kerrigan, E. J., 8 

Kerrigan, J. Warren, 127, 133, 135 

Killy, Edward, 291 

Kimbrough, John, 248, 302 

King, Charles, 257 

King, Henry, 127, 128, 240, 277, 331 

King, John, 216,261 

King, Louis, 158 

King and Four Queens, The, 274 

King hong, 167 

Kiss for Cinderella, A, 132, 171 

Kit Carson, 142, 247, 270, 288 

Kleine, George, 53 

Kline, Ben, 116 

Kleptomaniac, The, 49 

Knickerbocker Buckeroo, The, 1 25 

Knights of the Range, 255 

Kohler, Fred, Jr., 137, 194, 204, 222 

Kohler, Fred, Sr., 194, 222 

Kortman, Robert, 83 

Kracauer, Siegfried, 265 

Ladd, Alan, 294 

Lady Takes a Chance, A, 255 

Lake, Stuart, 7, 249 

Lake, Veronica, 256 

Lamb, The, 82 

Land Beyond the Law, 216 

Lane, Allen, 213, 257, 301 

Lang, Fritz, 241, 294 

Landis, Carole, 224 

LaPlante, Laura, 230 

Laramie, 302-303 

La Rocque, Rod, 165, 171 

Larsen, Keith, 315 

LaRue, Al "Lash," 189, 258, 260, 304 

Lasky, Jesse, 99 

Last Command, The, 123 

Last Drop of Water, The, 63, 64 

Last Frontier, The, 171,282 

Last Hunt, The, 22 

Last of the Clintons, 194 

Last of the Comanches, 339 

Last of the Duanes, The, 248 

Last of the Mohicans, The, 167, 315 

Last Outlaw, The, 202-203 

Last Round Up, The, 262 

Last Sunset, The, 339 

Last Wagon, The, 28, 337 

Laurel, Stan, 54, 253 

Lava, William, 214 

Law and Order, 102,200-202 

Law of the 45 's, 7 

Law of the Range, The, 159 

Law of the Texan, 220 

Law Rides Again, The, 38, 261, 282 

Lawford, Peter, 339 

Lawless Nineties, The, 222 

Lawless Rider, The, 293, 306 

Lawless Riders, 220 

Lawless Valley, 222 

Law's Outlaw, The, 126 

Lazarsfeld, Paul F., 319 

Lazy Lightning, 164 

Lease, Rex, 225, 232 

Lee, I., 58 

Left Handed Gun, The, 340 

Le Saint, Edward, 32, 116, 219 

Lesser, Sol, 207, 221 

Let Freedom Ring, 203, 245 

Levey, Jules, 256 

Levine, Nat, 210 

Lewis, Jerry, 254 

Lewis, Joseph H., 199, 218, 255 

Liberty, 229 

Life of an American Cowboy, The, 49 

Light of the Western Stars, 165, 198, 255 

Lincoln, Abraham, 133, 139 

Lindbergh, Charles, 174 

Little, Ann, 68-69 

Little Big Horn, 280 

Little Train Robbery, The, 50 

Lives of a Bengal Lancer, The, 197, 244 

Livingston, Bob, 186, 223-224, 257, 258 

Livingston, Margaret, 137 

Llano Kid, The, 256 

Lloyd, Frank, 117, 205 

Loaded Pistols, 262 

Locked Door, The, 173 

Lockwood, Harold, 127 

Logan, Harvey, 8 

London, Jack, 280 

Lone Ranger, The, 234, 313 

Lone Ranger, The, 230 

"Lone Ranger, The," (TV), 311 

Lone Star, 194, 333 

Lone Star Ranger, The, 1 18, 248 

Loos, Anita, 93 

Lorna Doone, 324 

Lost Squadron, The, 295 

Lost Youth, 327 

Love, Bessie, 92 

Lowery, Robert, 173, 296 

Lubin, Sigmund, 50 

Lucas, Wilfrid, 63, 123 

Luck of Roaring Camp, The, 1 

Lucky Devils, 295 

Lucky Latktn, 175 

Luden, Jack, 220 

Lupton, John, 315 

Lusty Men, The, 339 

Lyons, Cliff, 206 


Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair, 289 

MacDonald, J. Farrell, 137 

MacDonald, Jeanette, 203 

MacDonald, Katherine, 95 

MacDonald, William Colt, 7, 203, 222 

MacRae, Henry, 166, 229 

Madison, Guy, 266, 294, 313 

Mafia, 328 

Mahoney, Jack, 294, 309, 313 

Mai, Karl, 38, 324 

Maloney, Leo, 157, 229 

Mamoulian, Rouben, 173 

Man from the Alamo, The, 123, 294 

Man from Painted Post, The, 125 

Man from the Black Hills, 155 

Man in the Saddle, The, 156 

Man of Conquest, 123, 289 

Man of the Forest, 198, 210 

Man with the Steel Whip, The, 234 

Man Without a Star, 269 

Manhattan Madness, 96, 124 

Mankiewicz, Joseph L., 282 

Mann, Anthony, 20, 278-279 

Mann, E. C, 7 

Man's Man, A, 127, 221 

March, Frederic, 94 

"March of the Iron Horse, The," 141 

MarkofZorro, The, 124, 164, 167, 291 

Markey, Enid, 82 

Markey, F. F., 76 

Marlowe, June, 160 

Marsh, Mae, 63, 65, 123, 334 

Marshall, George, 116, 229, 253 

Marshall, Tully, 135 

Martin, Dean, 254 

Marton, Andrew, 290 

Martyrs of the Alamo, The, 66, 123 

Marx, Groucho, 254 

Marx Brothers, 254 

Massacre, 282 

Massey, Raymond, 280 

Masterson, "Bat," 104 

Mate, Rudolph, 30 

Mature, Victor, 250 

Maupassant, Guy de, 238-239 

Mayer, Louis B., 54 

Maynard, Ken, 25, 30, 38, 109, 147, 148, 149- 
150, 154-156, 158, 174, 175, 176, 183, 185, 
186, 193, 195-197, 211, 216, 220, 224, 225, 




Maynard, Kermit, 224, 294 

McCall,Jack, 243 

McCanless boys, 105, 106 

McCoy, Tim, 135, 158-159, 165, 171, 176, 

186-188, 193, 219, 221, 224, 225, 258, 259, 

290, 317 
McCrea.Joel, 237-238, 256, 277 
McCulley, Johnston, 164 
McGlynn, Frank, 232 
McKim, Robert, 82, 96 
McNally, Stephen, 306 
Melville, Herman, 6 
Mendelssohn, Felix, 232 
Men Without Women, 195 
Merchant of Venice, The, 56 
Meredith, Iris, 32 
Metropolis, 166 
Miles, Vera, 270 
Milestone, Lewis, 252 
Miller, Patsy Ruth, 117 
Miller, Walter, 195, 222, 229 
Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch Wild West Show, 

67, 110 
Mine with the Iron Door, The, 1 83 
Miner, Worthington, 316 
Minoff, Philip, 316 
Minow, Newton N., 300 
Minter, Mary Miles, 132, 135 
Misadventures of a Sheriff, 57 
Misfits, The, 15, 340 
Miracle Rider, The, 121 
Mr. Haywood, Producer, 1 1 2 
Mr. "Silent" Haskins, 79 
Mitchell, Rhea, 78 
Mitchell, Thomas, 268 
Mitchum, Robert, 255, 279 
Mix, Art, 148 
Mix, Bill, 148 
Mix, Ruth, 148, 210 
Mix, Tom, 7,54, 75, 95,99, 109-121, 123, 128, 

131, 136-137, 146, 148-150, 158, 160, 164, 

170, 171, 174, 183, 184, 186, 193, 195, 253, 

288,296, 305, 311, 317 
Moby Dick, 6 
Mojave Kid, The, 157-158 
Mollycoddle, The, 291 
Moment of Madness, A, 286-287 
Monk, Hank, 295 
Montana, Monty, 194 

Montgomery, George, 170, 230, 248, 308 

Moon Riders, The, 229 

Moonlight on the Prairie, 216 

Moore, Clayton, 313 

Moore, Colleen, 1 1 7 

Moore, Owen, 63 

Moore, Vin, 161 

Morgan, Henry, 252 

Morris, Wayne, 301, 304 

Morrison, Pete, 149, 159 

Motion Picture Herald, 225, 256 

Mounted Stranger, The, 1 75 

Moving Picture World, The, 55, 67, 90, 129 

Mule Train, 262 

Mulford, Clarence E., 7, 170, 206, 312 

Mulhall, Jack, 232 

Murder My Sweet, 265 

Murietta, Joaquin, 203 

Murnau, 115, 137 

Murphy, Audie, 254, 306, 334-335, 338 

My Darling Clementine, 249 

My Life East and West, 76, 103 

My Pal the King, 120 

My Valet, 82 

Myers, Lon, 76 

Mystery Mountain, 211 


Naked Spur, The, 279 

Nan of Music Mountain, 128 

Nanette (dog), 160 

Napoleon Bonaparte (dog), 159 

Narrow Trail, The, 93, 94, 96, 118, 128 

Nelson, Bobby, 232 

Nelson, Sam, 291 

Nevada, 170, 171, 198 

New York World, 137 

Newfield, Sam, 224 

Newhard, Robert S., 78 

Newill, James, 258 

Newman, Paul, 340 

New York Daily News, 302 

New York Times, The, 250 

Niblo, Fred, 288 

Nicholls, George, Jr., 289 

Night Cry, The, 159-160 

Night Passage, 335 

Nilsson, Anna Q.., 95, 97 

No Man's Gold, 118 

No Name on the Bullet, 334 

Normand, Mabel, 82 

North of Hudson Bay, 116, 137 

North of the Rockies, 229 

North of 36, 136 

North to Alaska, 255, 291 

Northwest Mounted Police, 244-245 

Northwest Passage, 245-246 

Novak, Eva, 95, 98 

Novak, Jane, 95, 96 

Outlawed Guns, 196 

"Outlaws," 316 

Outlaws ofSonora, 223, 298 

Over the Border, 145 

Overland Express, 220 

Overland Mail, 217 

Overland Stage Raiders, 224 

Overland with Kit Carson, 233 

Overlanders, The, 324 

Owen, Seena, 82, 95 

Ox-Bow Incident, The, 7, 16, 251-252, 279 


Cangaceiro, 329 

O'Brian, Hugh, 190, 314 

O'Brien, George, 42, 103, 117, 136, 137, 140, 

141, 170, 189, 221, 255, 296, 340 
O'Brien, Jack, 137 
O'Brien, Margaret, 242 
Odd Man Out, 265, 276-277 
Of Mice and Men, 252 
Oklahoma Kid, The, 27, 37, 242 
Oklahoma Woman, The, 271 
Oland, Warner, 230 
Old Corral, The, 214 
Omaha Trail, The, 246 
O'Malley, Pat, 104 
O'Malley of the Mounted, 98, 101, 103 
On Secret Patrol, 220 
On the Border, 57 
On the Night Stage, 78 
On the Warpath, 58 
One Eyed Jacks, 340 
One Foot in Heaven, 94 
O'Neill, Eugene, 279 
Open Range, 1 7 1 
Ore Raiders, The, 164 
Oregon Trail, The, 7, 188, 232 
Ortega y Gasset, Jose, 23 
Osborne, Bud, 257, 295 
O'Shea, Jack, 257 
Othello, 57 

Our Daily Bread, 143 
Outcasts of Poker Flat, The, 7, 129 
Outlaw, The, 43, 136, 190, 256, 266-268 
Outlaw Express, The, 157 
Outlaw of Tacca del Lupo, The, 329 
Outlaw Treasure, 306 


Paderewski, I.J., 82 

Page, Dorothy, 210 

Paget, Alfred, 63 

Paget, Debra, 22, 281 

Painted Desert, The, 206 

Painted Pomes, 1 56 

Painted Stallion, The, 230 

Paiva, Nestor, 1 

Paleface, 254 

Pals of the Saddle, 42, 223 

Pandora's Box, 224 

Panhandle, 276 

Pankhurst, Charlie, 295 

Panofsky, Erwin, 61 

Pardners, 254 

Parker, Jean, 255 

Parkman, Francis, 7 

Parsons, J. Palmer, 166 

Partners of the Trail, 199-200 

Passing of Two Gun Hicks, The, 79 

Past Redemption, 68-69 

Patton, Bill, 148 

Peck, Gregory, 252, 270, 333, 335, 337 

Pendleton, Nat, 173 

Perils ofNyoka, The, 294 

Perils of Pauline, The, 227-229, 286 

Perils of the Jungle, 147 

Perrin,Jack, 27, 147, 148, 229 

Pet of the Big Horn Ranch, 57 

Peter Pan, 132, 167 

Peter the Great (dog), 159, 171 

Phantom Empire, 213 

Phantom of the West, 224 

Phantom Riders, 129 

Photoplay, 129, 174, 178, 321 



Pickford, Mary, 63, 91, 222, 260, 321 

Pictorial History of the Wild West, 9 

Pine Ridge Feud, 57 

Pinky, 281 

Pinto Ben, 118 

Plainsman, The, 204-205, 206, 237, 244, 

Polito, Sol, 155 

Polo, Eddie, 128, 229 

Pony Express, The, 135, 136, 145, 204 

Pony Express Rider, 112 

Pony Soldier, 249 

Porter, Edwin S., 9, 47-53, 61, 181 

Portes de la Nuit, Les, 276 

Potemkin, 166 

Powdermaker, Hortense, 179 

Powdersmoke Range, 7, 202-203 

Powell, Paul, 1 72 

Power, Tyrone, 154, 338 

Powers, Francis, 137 

Prairie Law, 222 

Prairie Pirate, The, 150, 195 

Prairie Thunder, 38 

Preston, Robert, 238 

Public Enemy, 251 

Pudovkin, Vsevolod I., 142, 191 

Public Enemy, 37, 195 

Pursued, 276-277 

Pyle, Denver, 309 

Quantrill, 242-243 
Quinn, Anthony, 251 
Quirk, James R., 174 
Quo Vadis, 113 

Racketeer, The, 173 

Racketeers of the Range, 42, 222 

Raffles, 53 

Rain Follows the Dew, 323 

Rainbow Trail, The, 118 

Ralston, Esther, 198, 210 

Ramona, 282 

Ramrod, 256 

Ranch Life in the Great South West, 1 1 1 

Rancho Notorious, 294, 307 

Randall, Jack, 207, 216, 221, 293, 297 

Range Fighter, The, 154 

Range Law, The, 1 1 3 

"Range Rider," 309, 313 

Ranger Courage, 220 

Ranger's Roundup, 218 

Rangers Step In, The, 37 

Rapee, Erno, 141 

Rawhide, 197, 221, 278 

"Rawhide" (TV), 316 

Rawhide Years, The, 30 

Ray, Allene, 176 

Ray, Nicholas, 20, 339-340 

Rayart Rough Riders, 148 

Raymaker, Herman, 160 

Reagan, Ronald, 1 1 

Real West, The, 317 

Red Badge of Courage, The, 282, 290 

Red Blood of Courage, The, 224 

Red Hot Leather, 157 

Red Man's View, The, 58 

Red Raiders, The, 38, 155-156, 197, 298 

Red River, 288, 305, 324, 329, 331 

Red River Valley, 214 

Red Wing's Gratitude, 58 

Reeves, Bob, 147 

Regular Scout, A, 151-152 

Reicher, Frank, 127 

Reid, Wallace, 128, 132, 172 

Reisenfeld, Hugo, 82 

Remington, Frederic, 75, 235 

Renaldo, Duncan, 224, 256 

Renegades, 248 

Renfrew of the Royal Mounted, 261 

Renzi, Renzo, 328-329 

Reprisal, 266 

Rescued from an Eagle's Nest, 49, 51-52, 61 

Return of Draw Egan, The, 28 

Return of Frank James, The, 241 

Return of the Bad Men, 243 

Rex (horse), 167 

Reynolds, Lynn, 116, 156 

Richmond, Al, 148 

Riddle Gawne, 95 

Ride 'Em Cowboy, 254 

Ride Tonight, 324 

Riders in the Sky, 262 

Riders of Death Valley, 232, 327 

Riders of Pasco Basin, 255 

Riders of the Black Hills, 223 

Riders of the Dawn, 207, 217, 293 

Riders of the Purple Sage, 90, 1 18-1 19, 170, 248 

Riders of the Whistling Pines, 262 

Ridtn' for Love, 161 

"Rifleman," 316 

Rin Tin Tin (dog), 14, 115, 159-160, 171,291 

"RinTinTin," (TV), 315 

Rin Tin Tin, Jr. (dog), 194 

Rw Bravo, 331 

Rio Grande, 39, 275 

Rise of the American Film, The, 9 

Ritter, Tex, 15, 186, 216, 221, 255, 258, 262 

Roach, Hal, 105, 167 

Road Agents, The, 58 

Road to Hope, The, 329 

Roaring Twenties, The, 37 

Roberts, Kenneth, 245 

Roberts, Lynne, 210 

Robertson, Dale, 1 1 

Robin Hood, 125, 291 

Robin Hood of Eldorado, 203 

Robin Hood of Monterey, 261 

Robinson, George, 166 

Rockwell, Jack, 219 

Rocky Rhodes, 196 

Rodeo, 339 

Rogell, Al, 155, 164 

Rogers, Roy, 13-15, 43, 63, 109, 119, 185, 186, 

189, 197, 210, 213-216, 222, 243, 257, 293, 

301,308,312, 313, 314, 340 
Rogers, Will, 104, 110, 1 12, 216, 277 
Rogers' Rangers, 245 
Roland, Gilbert, 172, 261, 297 
Roll Wagons Roll, 217 
Rolling Westward, 217 
Romeo and Juliet, 56, 76 
Romero, Cesar, 248, 250 
Romola, 277 
Roosevelt, Buddy, 147 
Rose Marie, 203 
Rose of the Golden West, 172 
Rosson, Arthur, 125, 288 
Rotha, Paul, 141 
Rothapfel (Roxy), Samuel, 82 
Rough and Ready, 127 
"Rough Riders, The," 259 
Rough Riding Romance, 1 1 7 
Roughing It, 1 
Round Up, The, 167, 256 

Royal Mounted Rode Again, The, 233 
Ruggles, Wesley, 102, 247 
Ruggles of Red Gap, 128, 253 
Run of the Arrow, 18-19, 244, 271 
Ruse, The, 80 

Russell, Charles M., 75, 104 
Russell, Jane, 136, 266 
Russell, Reb, 225 
Russell, William, 123, 127 

Saddle Acres, 194 

Sagebrush Tom, 1 1 2 

Sahara, 339 

St. Clair, Mai, 160 

St. John, Al, 258 

Saint Johnson, 201 

San Antonio, 244 

Sand, 96 

Sandoz, Mari, 7 

Sann, Paul, 8 

Santa Fe, 143, 306 

Santa Fe Trail, 11-12, 243-244 

Santschi, Tom, 1 13 

Sanucci, Frank, 217 

Satan Town, 150, 194-195 

Saturday Evening Post, 53 

Savage, The, 282 

Saylor, Syd, 223-224 

Scarlet Days, 131 

Scarlet Street, 265 

Scarlet West, The, 167 

Schlessinger, Leon, 195 

Schneidermann, George, 139 

Schurz, Carl, 4 

Scott, Fred, 203, 216, 218 

Scott, Randolph, 155, 198, 206, 241, 243, 250, 

Scott, Zachary, 271 
Scotty of the Scouts, 228 
Scourge of the Desert, The, 79 
Sea Hawk, The, 117 
Sea Wolf, The, 280 

Searchers, The, 140, 270, 275, 317, 333 
Secret Man, The, 129 
Sedgewick, Edward, 116, 156 
Sedgwick, Eileen, 229 
Seiler, Lewis, 116 




Seitz, George B., 168, 171, 229, 247 

Selander, Lesley, 10, 271, 276, 315 

Selfish Yates, 95 

Selig, William, 53, 56, 111-113, 123, 147 

Selznick, David, 290 

Senor Daredevil, 154-155 

Sennett, Mack, 63, 68, 77, 82, 253 

Sequoia, 291 

Sergeant Berry, 326-327 

"Sergeant Preston of the Yukon," 315 

Sergeant Rutledge, 333 

Sergeants Three, 339 

Seven Angry Men, 337 

Shane, 19, 181, 275, 317, 323, 336, 341 

Shark Monroe, 95 

Sharpe, David, 294 

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, 250, 275 

Sheridan, Philip Henry, 1 1 

"Sheriff of Cochise," 315 

Sheriff's Streak of Yellow, The, 79 

Sherman, Harry, 206, 208, 249, 255, 256 

Sherman, Lowell, 63 

Sherry, J. Barney, 70 

Shonts Brothers, 1 1 

Shooting High, 213, 296 

Shooting Square, 26-27 

Shotgun, 271, 306 

Show Boat, 204 

Show People, 103 

Short, Luke, 7 

Siege at Red River, 249 

Siegmann, George, 63 

Sign Invisible, The, 128 

Sight and Sound, 250 

Silent Man, The, 94 

Sills, Milton, 172 

Silver (horse), 299 

Silver Comes Through, 152 

Silver King (horse), 152-154 

Silver Trails, 260 

Sinatra, Frank, 50, 281, 339 

Singer Jim McKee, 99-101, 149 

Singing Cowgirl, The, 210 

Singleshot Kid, The, 158 

Sitting Bull, 1 1 

Sitting Bull, 11-12, 18, 288 

Six Cylinder Love, 1 1 4 

Six Feet Four. 127 

Six Shooter Andy, 114 

Six-Shootm' Romance, A, 157 

Sjostrom, Victor, 166 

Skeptical Cowboy, The, 58 

Skinner, Frank, 254 

Sky High, 118-119 

"Sky King," 314 

Sky Pilot, 131 

Slade, Jack, 28-29 

Smith, Cliff, 78, 82, 83, 1 16, 126, 164 

Smoking Guns, 196-197, 298 

Somewhere in the Night, 265 

Song of Bernadette, The, 224 

Song of the Prairie, 323 

Sons of Adventure, 295-296 

Sons of New Mexico, 262 

South of the Border, 215 

Spellbound, 265 

Spillane, Mickey, 335, 337 

Spoilers, The, 95, 112-113, 127, 299, 325 

Spoor, George K, 53 

Square Deal Man, The, 92 

Square Deal Sanderson, 96, 146 

Squaw Man, The, 76, 1 76 

Squaw's Love, The, 63 

Stage to Lordsburg, 238-239 

Stagecoach, 27, 38, 41, 136, 155, 188, 203, 217, 

225, 238, 240, 244, 259, 293, 302, 306, 331, 

Stampede, 10, 57, 276 
Stand Up and Fight, 245 
Standing, Jack, 83 
Stanley and Livingstone, 111 
Stanton, Richard, 114 
Stanwyck, Barbara, 237 
Star in the Dust, 335 
Stark Love, 132 
Starr, Belle, 242-243 
Starrett, Charles, 32, 63, 189, 219-220, 261, 

State Fair, 277 
Steele, Bob, 50, 147, 148, 157-158, 193, 203, 

221,222,224, 243, 258, 261 
Steiger, Rod, 274 
Steinbeck, John, 252 
"Steve Donovan, Western Marshal," 315 
Stevens, Charles, 250, 336 
Stevens, George, 19, 171, 275 
Stevens, Mark, 29 
Stewart, James, 281 

Stewart, Roy, 123, 126, 131, 148, 229 

Stokes, Olive, 110 

Stone of Silver Creek, 195 

Storey, Edith, 127 

Storm Over Bengal, 293 

Straight Shootin', 129, 164 

Strawberry Roan, 197, 262 

Streets of Laredo, The, 205-206 

Stroheim, Erich von, 63, 147, 172 

Stromberg, Hunt, 150 

Strongheart (dog), 159 

Sturges, John, 278, 340 

"Sugarfoot," 316 

Sullivan, Barry, 256 

Sullivan, C. Gardner, 78, 83 

Sullivan, Francis L., 203 

Summerville, Slim, 262 

Sundown Jim, 248 

Sunrise, 115, 137 

Sunset in Eldorado, 293 

Sunset Pass, 1 70 

Sunset Trail, 183 

"Sur- Western," 19-20 

Sutter's Gold, 203-204 

Sutter, J. A, 325 

Swain, Mack, 57 

Swanson, Gloria, 53, 193 

Sweet, Blanche, 63, 64 

Swickard, Charles, 78 

Swickard, Josef, 232 

Taking of Luke McVane, The, 79, 81 

Talbot, Lyle, 309 

Tall Texan, The, 280 

Talmadge, Richard, 151, 164, 291, 296 

Tamblyn, Russ, 338 

Tangled Fortunes, 1 99 

Tarzan (horse), 30 

Taylor, Dub, 260 

Taylor, Ray, 161,229,255 

Taylor, Robert, 22, 103, 245, 314, 333, 335 

Tearin' into Trouble, 172 

Tearle, Conway, 167, 194 

Temporary Truce, A, 63 

"Ten Commandments of the Cowboy," 20-21, 

Tenderfoot, The, 57 

Terhune, Max, 222, 224, 260, 261 

Terry, Alice, 167 

Testing Block, The, 98 

Texans, The, 206 

Texas, 248 

Texas Gunfighter, 224 

Texas Rangers, The, 205, 206, 244 

Texas Streak, The, 156 

Texas Tex, 56 

Texas to Bataan, 43, 261 

That Girl Oklahoma, 148 

They Died With Their Boots On, 11, 244 

They Were Expendable, 136 

Thief of Bagdad, The, 125 

Thirteen, The, 339 

Thomson, Fred, 148, 150, 151-154, 158, » 

219, 317 
Thomson, Kenneth, 166 
Thorpe, Richard, 172, 229 
Three Bad Men, 145 
Three Godfathers, 145 
Three Hours to Kill, 274 
Three Jumps Ahead, 116 
Three Mesquiteers, 203, 223, 257, 261 
Three Musketeers, The, 292 
Three on a Trail, 206 
3:10 to Yuma, 335 
Three Word Band, 98-99 
Three Young Texans, 340 
Thunder Riders, 164 
Thunder Trail, 198 
Thundercloud, Chief, 232 
Thundering Herd, The, 165, 198, 210, 244 
Thundering Hoofs, 153-154 
Ticket to Tomahawk, A, 248-249 
Tiger Man, The, 95 
Tiger's Trail, The, 228 
Tilghman, "Uncle Billy," 104 
Timber Wolf, 151 
Time, 250 

Titus, Phoebus, 248 
To the Last Man, 198, 210 
Tol'able David, 277 
Toll Gate, The, 97-98, 99, 336, 341 
Toll of the Desert, 194 
Tom Mix in Arabia, 1 17 
Tomahawk, 32, 282 
Tombstone, 194, 256 
Tony (horse), 117, 118, 121 




Topeka, 28 

Torrence, Ernest, 135 
Toth, Andre de, 256 
Tough Guy, The, 152 
Tourjansky, 158 
Tour of Prairies, 1 
Tourneur, Jacques, 275 
Tourneur, Maurice, 91, 167 
Town Too Tough To Die, The, 256 
Track of the Cat, 279 
Tracked by the Police, 160 
Tracy, Spencer, 245 
Trail Beyond, The, 297 
Trail of the Hawk, 199 
Trail of the Lonesome Pine, The, 11 
Trail of the Vigilantes, 254 
Travelin' On, 99 
Tree, Chief Big, 137 
Trenker, Luis, 325 
Trevor, Claire, 256 
Tribute to a Bad Man, 2 1 
Trigger (horse), 43 
Triple Action, 159 
Trooper Hook, 333 
Trotti, Lamar, 251-252 
Trouble in Paradise, 195 
Trouble in Sundown, 222 
True Indian's Heart, A, 58 
True Story of Jesse James, The, 338 
Truthful Tulliver, 92, 299 

Tumbleweeds, 37, 76, 90, 100-101, 102, 103-104 
Tumbling River, 1 1 7 
Tumbling Tumbleweeds, 214 
Turksib, 142 
Turin, Victor, 142 
Turpin, Ben, 53 
Tuttle, W. C, 170 
Twain, Mark, 7 
Twelve O'Clock High, 277 
Twisted Trails, 113 
Twisted Triggers, 167 
Two Flags West, 39, 282, 333 
Two Gun Law, 219 
Two-Gun of the Tumbleweed, 157 
Two Guns and a Badge, 304 
Two Rode Together, 333-334 
Tyler, Tom, 38, 147, 148, 157, 193, 199, 203, 
221, 224, 297 


Unconquered, 270 

Under Western Stars, 214 

Undercover Man, 199 

Union Pacific, 27, 142-143, 225, 239, 244 

Untamed Frontier, 333 

Valentino, Rudolph, 91, 132 

Valley of Hunted Men, 43, 223 

Valley of the Giants, 172, 203 

Van Dine, S. S., 170 

Van Dyke, W. S., 151, 158, 229, 290 

Vanel, Charles, 329 

Vanishing American, The, 167-169, 170, 171,282 

Vit/inhmg Legion, 194 

Vanishing West, The, 229 

Variety, 61, 202 

Vengeance of Rannah, 194 

Vidor, King, 36, 63, 103, 131, 143, 146, 173, 

177, 200, 205, 245, 247, 268-271, 317 
Vigilantes Are Coming, The, 230 
Vigo, Jean, 340 
Violent Men, The, 333 
Virginia City, 243 

Virginian, The, 1, 76, 129, 173, 176, 204 
Viva Villa!, 290 
Ihli, mo, 165 
Von Seyffertitz, Gustav, 1 72 


Waco, 28 

Wagner, George, 137 

Wagon Tracks, 96, 105 

Wagon Tram, 194 

"Wagon Train" (TV), 316 

Wagonmaster, The, 102, 142, 250-251, 275, 

323, 341 
Wakely, Jimmy, 184, 213, 216, 302 
Walcamp, Marie, 229 
Wales, Wally, 147, 167, 172, 194, 225 
Walk the Proud Land, 13, 282, 335 
Walker, Clint, 314 
Walker, Johnnie, 167 

Wallace, Edgar, 170 

Walsh, Raoul, 63, 175, 177, 195, 283 

Walthall, Henry B., 53, 63, 171, 203 

Wanderer, The, 63 

Wanderer of the Wasteland, 170 

War on the Plains, 67 

War Paint, 159 

Ward, Mabel Hubbel, 121 

Warning Shadows, 29 

Warren, James, 255 

Washburn, Bryant, 148 

Washington, George, 3 

Washington Merry-go-round, 204 

Waters, John D., 290 

Watt, Harry, 324 

Way Out West, 253 

Wayne, John, 38, 42, 54, 117, 123, 178, 186, 
188, 195, 216, 219, 221, 222, 224, 240, 255, 
289, 290, 292, 297, 303, 329, 332, 341 

Webb, Harry, 148 

Webber, Charles W., 7 

Weiss Brothers, The, 147 

Wellman, William, 16, 125, 203, 249, 251- 
252, 279, 282 

Wells, Governor (Utah), 9 

Wells, Ted, 164 

Wells Fargo, 205, 206, 244, 247 

Werker, Alfred, 221, 280 

West, Charles, 63, 64 

West, Raymond, 68 

West of Carson City, 255 

West of the Pecos, 170 

Westbound Stage, 217 

Western Gold, 207 

Western Journal, 1 

Western Union, 241, 248 

Westerner, The, 164, 247 

Westerners, The, 1 

Westover, Winifred, 95 

Westward Bound, 225 

Whale, James, 204 

When a Man Rides Alone, 210 

When a Man Sees Red, 196 

When a Man's a Man, 210, 221 

When Rangers Step In, 220 

When the Daltons Rode, 241, 299 

Where the North Begins, 159-160, 291 

Whispering Smith, 129 

Whistle, The, 98 
Whistling Bullets, 224 
Whistling Dan, 224 
White, Lee "Lasses," 260 
White, Pearl, 227 
White, William Allen, 7 
White Eagle, 188,282 
White Feather, 282, 337 
White Gold, 165-166 
White Gorilla, The, 147 
White Outlaw, The, 157 
White Shadows in the South Seas, 290 
Whittaker, Herman, 145 
Why the Mail Was Late, 59 
Why the Sheriff Is a Bachelor, 1 12 
Wichita, 275, 306, 337 
Widmark, Richard, 28, 252, 337, 341 
Wild Bill Hickok, 94, 99, 105 
Wild Blood, 166 

Wild Girl of the Sierras, The, 123 
Wild Horse Stampede, 157 
Wild Justice, 171 
Wild West Days, 188 
Wild Women, 129 
Willat, Irvin, 135 
William, Warren, 230 
Williams, Bill, 313 
Williams, Clara, 83, 87 
Williams, Elmo, 335, 340 
Williams, Guinn "Big Boy," 149, 167, 220, 243 
Williams, Kathlyn, 112, 113 
Wilson, Ben, 148 
Wilson, Harry L., 128 
Wilson, Lois, 117, 133, 135 
Wilson, Whip, 213, 260, 301 
Wilson, Woodrow, 96 
Winchester 73, 279 
Wind, The, 166 
Winds in the Wastelands, 222 
Wings of Eagles, The, 294 
Winners of the West, 229 
Winners of the Wilderness, 158 
Wise, Robert, 21 
Wister, Owen, 7 

With Buffalo Bill on the U. P. Trail, 148 
With Custer at the Little Big Horn, 148 
With Sitting Bull at the Spirit Lake Massacre, 
147, 148-149 




Withers, Grant, 39, 220 
Witney, William, 309 
Wizard of the Saddle, 158 
Wolf and His Mate, The, 128 
WolfLowry, 92 
Wolf's Trail, 159 
Wolves of the Rail, 95 
Woman, The, 69, 286 
Woman of the Town, The, 256 
World in His Arms, The, 283, 337 
Wright, Harold Bell, 174, 221 
Wright, Teresa, 277 
Wyatt Earp, 1 

"Wyatt Earp" (TV), 314 
Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshall, 249 
Wyler, William, 13, 161, 164, 200, 247, 271, 

Xydias, Anthony J., 148, 156 

Tear ling, The, 291 

Yellow Sky, 252, 279 

Yellow Tomahawk, The, 271 

Yermak, 3 

Yodellin' Kid from Pine Ridge, The, 214 

York, Burly Duke, 295 

Young, Brigham, 133 

Young, Robert, 241, 245 

Young Bill Hickok, 293 

Young Guns, The, 338 

"Zane Grey Theatre," 316 
Zero de Condmte, 340 
Zinnemann, Fred, 19, 42, 275 
Zukor, Adolph, 93, 99 


continued from front flap 

son, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hop- 
along Cassidy, Henry Fonda, Gary 
Cooper — the list is endless — have 
become in their roles legitimate 
American Folk Heroes. 

This illustrated history of the West- 
erns by George Fenin and William 
Everson is the product of serious 
research into the truth of the West 
and its cinematic presentation. Here 
are all the stars, and the heroes, out- 
laws, and heroines they portrayed; 
the themes of the Westerns from 
the formulas of the "B" pictures 
turned out by the thousands to 
today's "adult Westerns" with their 
tortured psychology; the directors 
whose inspiration was crucial, men 
like Porter, Ince, Hart, Cruze, Ford, 
Wellman and others; the fist and 
gunfights, the Western landscapes 
(as much part of the Western as the 
hero and the outlaw) ; the Indian 
raids, the covered wagon treks, the 
rustlers and the sheriffs who pur- 
sued them. 

Turn a page and meet again Holly- 
wood's Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, 
Jesse James, and Doc Holliday-and 
the real men behind the make-up, 
the actors. Ride once more into 
Tombstone and across the Western 
range — with the cameras conven- 
iently out of sight. Perhaps the real 
West and Hollywood's version of it 
have often been different. Perhaps 
Hollywood has presented us with a 
romantic illusion, but who among 
us will deny that the illusion — or 
delusion— was wonderful? 

The Orion Press, Inc. 

116 EAST 19TH ST. 
NEW YORK 3, N. Y. 

Jacket by Wladislaw Finne